BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Mental health is one of the biggest issues students are dealing with coming out of the pandemic. Wednesday, News 4 learned more on how parents and educators are working together on a plan to address the increasing demand for help.

“Mental health is such a challenging animal; it’s not an easy fix,” said Stacie Dziwulski, director of family support at Mental Health Advocates of WNY. “And so when we come together as a group like this, we can pick the brains of everybody in that room, and really see how can we as a community support our children.”

On Wednesday, more than 100 educators, counselors and community leaders took the first steps in creating a tighter collaborative network, helping children battle the challenges inside and out of a post-pandemic classroom.

According to those who work with kids, they’ve seen more anxiety and depression in students from isolation, social media and many other factors.

“We had kids and adults that were living in isolation for a very long time, so they forgot how to interact with each other, they forgot how to manage their emotions, they forgot how to problem solve, and solve conflicts,” said Anne Nowak, director of Sweet Home Family Support Center. “So that’s really going back to basics and teaching kids how to do that again.”

“The why isn’t really that important,” Dziwulski added. “It’s what we are going to do about it, what are we going to do to help it. The why, we can think about it forever, but let’s move forward and let’s figure out how we can put some positive pieces into these kids’ lives.”

Advocates say what students need right now is support in class, at home, and all throughout the community. During the meeting, educators shared with advocates what they noticed is working — and what is not, hoping to provide the community’s resources with the children and parents that need it.

“Unless you put people in a room and have a conversation about it, those networks don’t form just kind of on their own,” said Hamburg Superintendent Michael Cornell, who also serves as president of the Erie/Niagara Superintendents’ Association. “So it’s important for us to bring people together.”

Organizers said this was the first of many conversations they plan on having regarding students mental health.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.