Students gathered for a morning meeting at Abbottston Elementary School. Photo by Zshekinah Collier/WYPR.

Nearly 143,000 children across Maryland have developed anxiety and depression since the coronavirus pandemic began 31 months ago, federal mental health data crunched by a local nonprofit shows. In 2016, roughly 9.4% of individuals between 3 years old and 17 years old were diagnosed with depression or anxiety across the state, according to the Annie E Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book.

By the end of 2020, nearly 13% of youth statewide had such diagnoses.

Nationwide, there are more than 7.3 million youth struggling with depression and anxiety, an increase of 1.5 million between 2016 and 2020.

In Baltimore, the public school district decided to stand up a new team of professionals in the school system to help students tackle mental health issues exacerbated by lack of in-person learning, canceled after school activities and more isolation to curb the spread of the virus. These new employees are known as student wellness support teams.

School leaders said that while students are resilient, the need for mental health has grown.

“It’s layered on top of a lot of challenges that our young people already face,” said Sarah Warren, executive director of the whole child services and support at Baltimore City Public Schools. “So it’s not that it’s brand new here in Baltimore. It’s compounding existing stresses and challenges.”

The goal is to raise awareness in students and parents to know which staff members are available to support them, Warren said.

All elementary schools across the district now have emotional check-ins before students begin for the day and mental health meetings for all middle school and high school students with adults, she said.

The district is focused on the concepts of student wholeness, restorative practices, and dedicated time for students to build relationships with classmates and teachers.

“Relationship building is also foundational for teaching and learning, because the best teaching and learning occurs when there is a strong, connected relationship between student and teacher and among the students in a classroom,” she said.

The Maryland State Department of Education was allocated more than $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act for mental health programs.

Read more (and listen) at WYPR.