The Invisible Pandemic: COVID’s Toll on Mental Health in Schools
By: Amanda Edge'22 and Catherine Onorato'22
In February, COVID-19 forced Americans out of the fabric of our daily lives into a period of unprecedented social confinement. This pandemic has tested many. Many have lost loved ones and jobs, missed graduations, birthdays, and valuable time with the people in our lives who we love. COVID-19, if nothing else, showed us how much we take our daily interactions with others for granted. Even if COVID-19 has not affected you personally, its effects have most likely taken a toll on your mental health.
This past summer debates over when and if children will go back to school began. One of the leading arguments for sending kids back to school was the toll that distance education has had on students’ mental health. All across the country, students had to quickly adjust to distance learning and other challenges brought on with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges include food insecurity, domestic violence, and the sudden loss of jobs. However, the mental health of large numbers of Americans, specifically students, declined significantly during this time of quarantine. According to the CDC, US citizens reported a considerably elevated number of mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. Younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, and essential workers have reported experiencing disproportionately worse mental health, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.
In our own community, when students reflected on their experience in the early parts of quarantine, they often described a dip in their mental health. We spoke to Laney Harrison ‘22 and Georgia Stanko ‘22, who both felt that their mental health has been impacted by the pandemic. Laney shared that she felt she lost a lot of her personality during the quarantine. She said, “I lost a lot of motivation to do things when a lot of people had a self-change during that time, I had no motivation to even try.” Similarly, Georgia Stanko felt that quarantine “definitely affected me in a negative way because I barely left my room and I didn’t go outside that much and obviously we couldn’t go anywhere with friends, so being cooped up and locked inside with your thoughts and feelings is not healthy for anyone’s mental state.”
Additionally, both Georgia and Laney mentioned that their mental health has relied heavily on their social interaction at school. Georgia said, “I am definitely happier at school because I'm surrounded by my friends and there is more of a community feel and I know that I definitely have a better time when we’re in person.” Laney is also “definitely happier at school” because [she] thrives off of social interaction so [she] likes in-person school much better than distance learning.” Both students stated that they would be disappointed if we returned to full distance-learning.
Next, we spoke with Ms. Harrison, Upper School counselor, who had an interesting take on the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health in our school community. She stated that “I have been very worried about the students and it has been difficult to figure out how to reach those that are struggling. But honestly, I've also been worried about the faculty because they are stressed and tired and are having to completely recreate what they do and how they deliver their material, so it takes 2-3 times longer for them to prepare and to assess and to do all the things they need to do to be a really good teacher. We have great faculty and are very fortunate, but they are feeling the stress pretty severely… The faculty are having to completely recreate what they do and how they deliver their material, and so it takes 2-3 times longer for them to prepare and to assess and to do all the things they need to do to be a really good teacher,” she added. In addition to the faculty having to focus several hours on their work, they also have to balance their home lives. Ms. Harrison mentioned that “[she] worries about their mental health and balanced with their home lives, marriages, children, and how much time it takes to prepare the classes, deliver the classes, and give assessments, it’s just extremely difficult.
Ms. Harrison also mentioned some useful tips for this confusing time. “It's really important to focus on the day-to-day, find things that give you some joy, small things even like favorite meals, taking a walk, snuggling with your dog. Those are things that you can have in your day to give you some structure. Making time to get outdoors, making time to get some exercise, connecting with other people via social media or zoom, etc. so that you have some social time. I think all of those things day-to-day can help boost your mental health and your spirits and can prevent you from feeling isolated.”
Overall, COVID-19 has not only affected students’ mental health but our community as a whole. But, something we have learned, as stated by Laney Harrison, is “I think I have more of an appreciation for in-person school, even though my mental health before the lockdown was deteriorating and I needed a break, once the pandemic came along I realized how much I took in-person school for granted.” In closing, on behalf of the staff of The Voice, we would like to remind you that the Saints community will always be there for you when you need us. This is a challenging time for everyone. Please remember that you are not alone! If you are seeking a support system, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8225
Dating Abuse and Domestic Violence: 1-866-331-9474
National Eating Disorder Association: 1-800-931-2237
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264