Teens are Anxious and Depressed, and Turning to the School Nurse for Help.

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School Nurse
School nurse Linda Vollinger takes a call while working at Stagg High School in Palos Hills on Aug. 22, 2018. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)
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A few hours into the first day of school, a young man entered the nurse’s office at Libertyville High School complaining of stomach pains.

The school nurse began asking him routine questions to determine the root of his troubles: Can you describe your symptoms? What have you eaten? Are you on any medication?

Cameron Traut, who has been the school nurse for Libertyville District 128 for 14 years, wasn’t surprised when the student eventually revealed that he had a history of mental health issues and was taking prescription pills to treat anxiety.

It’s a scene that school nurses are expecting many times over as the new year opens, reflecting both the growing number of mental health issues among school-age children, and how the traditional role of school nurses has evolved from cleaning up playground scrapes and taking temperatures to meet the needs of this growing population.

“There’s so much more in the school nursing world today than there ever has been,” Traut said. “These are constant conversations that we’re having here in this school setting to make sure we’re on top of supporting these students.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 20, or 2.6 million, U.S. children ages 6 to 17 had current anxiety or depression diagnosed by a health care provider in 2011-12.

School nurses in Illinois say the increase is evident in the students from elementary to high school who enter their offices each day, requiring not only bandages and ice packs but also a quiet space to break from stress. . . .

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