MAPLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — While schools like Maple Heights High School have in-school and third-party mental health resources to help students, a group of girls is finding healthy solitude through the nonprofit, Saving Our Daughters and MetroHealth.
Change is hard and adjusting to change under a state of emergency isn’t any easier.
But that’s exactly what Maple Heights seniors Adjah Top and Ciyah Hall had to do over and over again due to COVID.
“It’s been crazy, especially with COVID,” said Hall. “I wasn’t with my friends. I wasn’t with my classmates that I’ve been with for years and that interaction really damaged.”
The ever-changing new normal crippled Top’s routine and desire to express herself.
“I did have some really down times at the time,” she said. “I wasn’t really taking care of myself like I’ve been sitting all day I haven’t done my hair yet. I need to get up. I need to do something. I need to like clean my room or do my work, you know?”
And while the COVID restrictions and shutdown brought Hall and her twin brother closer, it has now heightened her fear of losing him.
“I just didn’t think that he appreciated me but now I see that he does. He really does,” she explained. “Now that [we’re] going off to college I’m not going to see him.”
Every subtle change and thought impacted their mental health and they’re not alone.
“There was an uptick definitely in kids I was worried about more…there was definitely more than in a normal school year,” said Amber Rahas, Maple Heights High School freshmen guidance counselor.
In Cleveland, doctors say more youth are suffering compared to many cities nationwide.
“We have the highest rates of children living in poverty, high rates of stress,” said Dr. Lisa Ramirez, a child psychologist at MetroHealth.
Ramirez said at the same time, more youth are they're spending less time in face-to-face relationships and more time online, the rates of suicidal thoughts among youth have increased.
“We know that young, especially our young black girls, that they start earlier having some suicidal thoughts. The data is starting to show,” she said. “Some of the protection that we had outside of pandemic times are not there, especially the social relationships that is one of the most important things that can protect our girls.”
According to Ramirez, the demand for mental health services has doubled since start the of the pandemic. She said many health specialists are preparing to deal with that demand for years to come as kids begin to cope with the idea of “post-pandemic.” For parents with kids dealing with mental health or those noticing concerning changes with their kids, Ramirez is urging them to have conversations and seek help instead of waiting until there’s an actual problem.
“We had already started to explore how do we make mental health more accessible because not everybody needs an individual therapist," Ramirez said. "So how do we start to work toward making the conversations more global? How do we make it accessible? How do we get representation and visibility for our girls, especially girls of color?”
While schools like Maple Heights High School have in-school and third-party resources to help, Top and Hall joined a group of their peers in finding healthy solitude through the nonprofit, Saving Our Daughters and MetroHealth.
Through frequent meetups and Zoom calls, the group of girls, in grades sixth through 12th-grade, have had the opportunity to share safe spaces and talk with stars like actress Demi Singleton and Keke Palmer and talk openly about shared hardships, experiences, healing and most importantly sisterhood.
“Young teenage women, we really need positivity,” Top said. “We do need each other.”
As Top and Hall prepare for their next chapter with college, they’re finding themselves again, while their friendship and support is helping ease the reality of coping with more change to come.
“Everybody deals with things in their own way, at their own pace,” Hall explained “I just hope that things only get better.”