CONWAY — Counselors at area health centers say they've treated a large number of teenagers in the past five weeks for anxiety, depression, and fear because of the disappearance of Abigail Hernandez.
"The issues surrounding Abby are huge for many students," said Trisha Jacobson, a North Conway mental health specialist. "Students are experiencing everything from anxiety to complete withdrawal."
Shawn Rogers of the White Mountain Community Health Center said she's seen "tons" of concerned teens since Hernandez was last seen walking from Kennett High School on Oct. 9.
"Those who know Abby have their concerns, but there are kids who are falling apart over this who didn't know Abby at all," Rogers said.
"It's hitting students hard. The level of stress among students I see has increased dramatically, because of where it happened and what may have happened to her. Some of them are saying, 'I walk home from school, can this happen to me?'"
In a letter to parents dated Oct. 18 that was posted on the Kennett website, Conway School District administrators and staff said it is "deeply concerned, not only for Abby Hernandez, but for the welfare of all of our students."
The letter advised parents to contact the district with specific questions, but generally suggested parents observe their children carefully.
"We ask that you keep a close eye on your child, listen to them, and talk about any concerns they have. It is important to make sure they are eating correctly, sleeping enough, getting exercise, and making healthy choices as they process this uncertainty," the letter read.
"It may also be helpful to monitor social media, text messaging, and limit exposure to coverage of anxiety-increasing movies, news, and other media sources. We will continue to offer our schools as a resource as needed, while we work as partners to support our students, schools, and community."
Jacobson said it was wise of the school district to be proactive, as students may not ask for help.
"Teens feel disconnected with the adult world as it is," she said. "Often the emotional stuff doesn't get processed and it comes out somewhere else."
Rogers said she is concerned that teens don't have the information and resources needed to deal with the crisis.
"Now, every time I have a teenager in the office, I'll open up the issue, and they really want to talk about it; they are scared and nervous," she said.