New studies are showing young people are in mental health “crisis” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Coastside students aren’t immune.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last month that one in four young adults seriously considered suicide over the summer and recommends parents talk to their kids about the COVID-19 outbreak to help reduce stress.
Cunha Intermediate School Counselor Janice Lee said the response to remote learning she’s seen from her students has been mixed. Some reacted positively to the new structure, taking on responsibilities and leadership roles with more comfort. But others — mostly those who were already struggling at school — are now falling off the radar without daily check-ins and in-person monitoring from staff.
“Without those interactions, we’re seeing a bigger dip in the kids we’re already concerned about,” Lee said.
Lee said students are struggling for a variety of reasons. Some are stressed out by the new formats and platforms remote schooling has introduced. Others who lack efficient technology, aren’t fully fluent in English or whose parents have to work while they complete school at home are struggling, too. Still others have voiced fears about the recent wildfires and feelings of isolation without regular social activities.
Sea Crest School seventh-grade student Sophia Nielsen said she’s gotten more nervous since the start of the pandemic because she worries about the health of her family. For eighth-grader Uma Krpata, school has gotten more stressful and her relationship with her family that has suffered.
“I argue with my mom every single day all the time,” Krpata said. “It’s starting to become a normal thing. I don’t think that’s healthy.”
Experts from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggested limiting social media use and to actively reach out to friends and family to build connections, to talk to someone everyday and to get enough food, exercise and sleep. They agree that younger people are experiencing more dramatic changes to their lives and aren’t equipped with the coping skills to handle it.
“The changes to their everyday life have been so profound,” said Associate Dean for Education Elizabeth Stuart.
To cope, eighth-grader Sianna Kiebler goes on walks. She said her relationship with her parents has actually improved during the pandemic now that they’ve improved their communication, and she has less homework with the new schedule. But Kiebler has noticed changes in her friends, that her social media use is way up, and said boredom has made her excitement for small things much more pronounced.
Sea Crest School’s Dean of Students and Director of Athletics Katie Moore said that she’s adapting her teaching in response to her concerns about her students’ emotional well-being and the long-term effects of the pandemic on their mental health.
“I changed my entire curriculum to focus on social-emotional learning,” Moore said.
Moore said she launched the “what’s behind my mask” social hour to check in with her students and to give them free space to be social with one another. All three of the Sea Crest students agreed that their open Friday schedule, which sets aside one hour for wellness, one hour to learn about topics outside the normal curriculum, and an hourlong community share-out, helps them get organized and forces them to carve out time to take care of their mental health.
Moore said fostering open conversation is especially important during the middle school years, when kids learn critical social skills — and today, during the pandemic, when the rules of conversations have changed.
“It’s weird now because a lot of our conversations are on screen,” Moore said. “I really want to help the kids with their transition when they do have to have face to face conversations.”
At Cunha, Lee said counselors have been joining classes and meeting with students privately during the afternoons to offer support. She said the school is also focusing on community-building activities like virtual spirit days, and teachers are working twice as hard to create a fun and supportive learning environment for their students. Counselors are also continuing to host an hourlong virtual “lunch bunch” every other week for students purely to socialize together.
But staff’s ability to see the signs of mental health issues is stymied by being entirely remote, Lee said. And when it comes to mental health, relying on students to advocate for themselves and ask for help doesn’t always work.
“My biggest concern now is we need them to be a little more proactive in reaching out, which is really hard for this age,” Lee said. “And when you're not in a good place, that's 100 percent harder to do.”