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Pandemic High School

COVID is having a measurable effect on student mental health concerns

By Mackenzie Cramer

January has rolled around and beckoned a return to school. Students are beginning to settle back into their Zoom schedules and resume some semblance of education. But it’s impossible to ignore everything going on in the world, especially recently.

The past few years in this area have been tumultuous. Whether from the fires, the power shut-offs, the political climate, or the pandemic, we have all experienced some form of collective trauma. Growing up with so much swirling around can be devastating in unanticipated ways.

So how are students dealing with these life-changing events? What is a school’s role in providing resources to support them?

Nobody is prepared to understand and deal with the mental weight of our circumstances, perhaps the students least of all. Even before COVID-19 forced changes to education as we know it, there was a growing desire for more funding for students’ mental health resources within schools. Now, the effects of this lack of resources have only become clearer.

A Brainly survey studying the effects of the pandemic on students found that the percentage of students reporting moderate-to-high stress levels during the school year rose 21 percent between 2019 and 2020. Talking to students, that percentage takes on a new meaning.

Teenagers always face personal challenges, but COVID-19 cases and deaths, elections, and other national events dominating the media have put even more pressure on young people. Students are anxious about school, of course, but there’s also a multitude of other things weighing on their minds.

The modern world is more connected than the one in which the school system was built; our current education system simply is not equipped for dealing with the existential issues that children face now. There are few easily accessible resources available to students that address stress and trauma, and limited educational leniency also hinders children from learning how to productively deal with these stressors.

Maturity is expected of students, who must be able to separate the blackened hills surrounding them and the rising COVID-19 cases on the news from the homework they’ve been assigned. Students are exposed to the concerns of global warming and other international issues that previous students didn’t need to think about until they were much older due to the lack of technology. Existential global threats are now closer than ever and can be a burden for students that schools do not recognize.

To succeed in school, kids are taught to focus on their short-term assignments rather than the long-term catastrophes surrounding them. To a certain degree, there’s an almost encouraged disconnect between reality and learning.

Of course, schools have no specific responsibility concerning students’ mental health, and it would be naïve to expect a complete pause in learning during this time. Typically, the school’s main focus is attempting to provide a good education while making sure their students aren’t doing drugs or taking part in illegal activities. The burdens of mental health are left to the individuals—the kids. And if struggling, children may be encouraged to act as advocates for themselves and reach out for help (although to whom specifically may be a mystery).

Still, the dilemma that arises, not only in a pandemic but with any mental health challenge, leaves students in a balancing act between the worlds of school and everything else. However, the world of “everything else” has only grown more challenging with the influx of information, and the balance is increasingly threatened.

With the constant pressure of due dates, the news fades into the rest of the discourse and only heightens students’ nerves further. There seemingly have been so many major events concentrated in this short period that many children have become somewhat desensitized to them. If the government is still standing, so is the assignment due on Friday.

This bleak mindset and learned apathy toward current events must elicit a conversation about schools’ responsibilities concerning mental health. Though it may not have been the main issue facing schools in recent years, the monumental jump in stress, depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders among students these past few years must grant the subject some attention.

There must be an acknowledgment of the failures of our outdated educational system in providing the tools for students to navigate through modern times. The lack of mental health resources doesn’t prepare students to deal with the information to which they are exposed at a young age.

Students are living through history, but there’s an unspoken toll that comes with it. Many monumental things have happened, but little (if anything) has even been acknowledged in classes. Right now, children aren’t learning the importance of watching history in the making, but rather how to ignore it.

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