The COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly changed the lives of students around the world, leaving them isolated, at home, and away from the activities and people they love.
This leaves students who already struggled with mental health issues prior to the pandemic more vulnerable than ever.
According to a survey conducted by ActiveMinds.org, 80 percent of college students have reported that COVID-19 has negatively affected their mental health. Additionally, one in five college students has reported that COVID-19 has worsened their mental health.
There has proven to be worldwide increases in depression, anxiety, and suicide resulting from isolation in the pandemic.
Often students, especially from lower-income households, rely on school counselors’ support and advice to help navigate the pressures of adolescence and cope with trauma. With no in-person support system to fall back on, students feel alone and lost.
Many use school as an escape from toxic home life. Unfortunately, being at home can cause a decrease in students receiving help from counselors because many feel unsafe to discuss their troubles while on the phone in their household. This experience has resulted in an increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates.
For many parents, balancing online work to make ends meet while also trying to take care of their young children leaves them with little to no time to meet their kids’ emotional needs.
So why does this matter?
Students’ mental health has been disregarded in efforts to continue learning in a difficult, remote setting. However, ignoring mental health issues in students has proven to have more effects on learning than many would think.
According to a survey conducted by BestColleges.com, over 90 percent of college students have reported experiencing negative mental health symptoms due to COVID-19. Almost 48 percent of these students believe their worsened mental health has impacted their education.
Online school has also introduced new challenges and disparities within learning. Students have reported that they struggle to stay focused and pick up on material while watching a screen compared to in the classroom. A supportive and focused classroom environment is necessary for students with all types of learning abilities to succeed.
Students of color are disproportionately more at risk to struggle with negative mental health due to a lack of a supportive adult or guardian to confide in and the additional effects of racism and oppression. Combined with a higher rate of poverty that worsened in the pandemic, the mental health of students of color has worsened, yet, been disregarded.
Many public schools within lower-income communities, which typically contain a larger percentage of students of color, have undergone major financial struggles during the pandemic. Schools are underfunded and unable to provide school counseling services that students rely on to assist with emotional needs.
Increasing rates of mental health issues amongst our youth is a major problem that deserves immediate attention and cannot be fixed by simply reopening schools.
So what can we do to help?
Students have reported that the #1 thing parents can do to help their children is to spend quality time with them. While students are feeling more alone than ever, family time is an important way to build and continue relationships. For those with difficult family life, it is important to stay connected to friends and peers through online or safe environments.
Encouraging hobbies and activities at home. Whether coming from teachers or parents, encouraging students to engage in hobbies and/or physical activity can increase mental health.
Provide time and safe spaces for regular mental health check-ins with students. Oftentimes, students will hesitate to come to an adult about their mental health, so making time to talk to students can show them someone cares and give them space to talk.
Implement mindfulness and gratitude into assignments and classes. Taking time for mindfulness through exercises such as meditation has proven to decrease levels of stress and anxiety.
Provide basic mental health training to all teachers and students to increase community awareness and defeat the stigma.
Strengthen student relationships. By providing safe, online spaces for students to engage with one another, teachers and parents can help to guide students through this tough time. Regardless of physical isolation, staying close to peers and family is an important way to increase happiness and ease stress.
Overall, it is necessary for us to address the hard hits taken to students’ mental health during the pandemic in more ways than just reopening schools. Mental health is a priority that all people deserve access and attention drawn towards.
No child will be left alone. This stops now.
Resources for students:
– National Youth Crisis Hotline: 1-800-448-4663
– Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
– National Alliance of the Mentally Ill: 1-800-950-6264
– The Trevor Project: 866-4-U-TREVOR
– Teen Line: 1-310-855-HOPE (4673)