Back-to-school anxiety on the rise; therapists see more students seeking mental health support

ORLANDO, Fla. — Back-to-school season is usually a mixture of excitement and anxiousness.


School district leaders across Central Florida said the first week has gone well, but behind the scenes, therapists said teens are experiencing difficulties.

Some therapists are reporting an increase in teenagers seeking help for back-to-school anxiety.

“From last August, compared to this August, we’ve seen a 47% increase in the amount of youth coming in for services,” said Windy McCarty, regional director for Central Florida Behavioral Hospital. “Way more than we’ve ever seen.”

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This year, McCarty said social media, bullying, financial uncertainty and new school policies are putting students on edge.

Last year, the facility turned away 500 patients due to capacity problems but now has expanded its beds for children and teens.

“We’re seeing more and more kids that are more acute,” McCarty said. “And have problems that are way more escalated than we’ve ever seen before.”

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Family therapist Cherlette McCullough also says she’s seen a difference in the past years.

“They were able to be comfortable with knowing certainly what’s going to happen,” McCullough said. “And this year, there’s a lot of uncertainty around the different things.”

And she advises parents to talk to their teens while maintaining their composure.

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“One of the main things I want to express to the parents is to take care of themselves and not transition that fear,” McCullough said.

Both therapists said the new cell phone policies in schools are another factor; parents can be nervous about not being able to contact their child in an emergency, and as a result, teens become nervous.

But they did not say teens should be able to have their phones in class.

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