The covid-19 pandemic brought us face to face with health issues and an economic crisis of a magnitude this world hadn’t previously witnessed. Everything had to shut down and according to UNESCO estimates by the end of April 2020, around 188 countries suspended schools nationwide. It was an unprecedented move but a necessary one. However, at the background of the pandemic continues to loom another connected health crisis that concerns us all. The adverse effect of the pandemic on the mental health of students has been a major concern of worry for school administration, teachers, counselors, psychologists, parents, and the students themselves.
ALSO READ: Tips to Improve Your Mental Health
The student community thrives on interpersonal communication for learning and developmental growth. An average child spends most of their days in a school with other children playing, learning, and doing several activities. This has been the norm, and this is the environment we all grew up in. But with schools shutting down and online classes thriving in full swing, learning surely didn’t stop but the student community suffered.
Breakdown on Interpersonal Communications
One of the biggest fallouts for students due to Covid-19 has been the complete breakdown of interpersonal communications. Young kids who learnt in a group, teenagers who escaped the rigmaroles of the household to be with friends, young college-going students who decided their career while juggling many activities on campuses were suddenly told to sit at home. Their movement was confined within the four walls of their home with many not moving out of their rooms for months.
Before we even discuss the impact of this social isolation on mental health, we must recognize how this led to a complete breakdown of interpersonal communications. Many children feel comfortable in a group, who look forward to spending time with their teachers and mentors and who look at social interactions as a way to come out of abuse and neglect. Being confined inside their homes meant they had to let go of their friendships (though they could stay connected online), they had to miss out on peer-group sessions and any sort of counseling that they may have been undergoing.
Identifying Students with Mental Health Issues
Students with any sort of mental health history have suffered due to the pandemic. If they were already struggling with anxiety and depression, the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. Since depression and anxiety continue to be taboo words and can easily scare away young minds from sharing their fears and insecurities before 2020, teachers and counselors had to observe and identify the silent sufferers. In a community environment, it was easier to identify children with mental health issues but now it has become quite difficult.
Adjusting to the New Normal
Sitting at home, attending classes online, missing out on outdoor activities and interactions isn’t the only way the pandemic has affected students. Though adjusting to this new normal is hard, the uncertainty of the future is a prime reason for high levels of anxiety among students. Reports are coming in from all corners of the world how in the past year and half of being locked inside their homes, students are anxious about several things – their physical health, breakdown of social connections, academic performances, and their overall future.
Graduating students are worrying the most. Many couldn’t sit for their landmark examinations which were called off due to the spike in cases. Students graduated without their performance being examined in the normal way. Many who relied on academic results to decide their plans were suddenly left clueless. Moreover, not being able to talk to their teachers or counselors meant that their anxiety and stress skyrocketed.
Impact on Children with Special Needs
Another segment of students who are the silent sufferers of the pandemic are children with special needs. They are a vulnerable group prone to common disdain and neglect. Daily routine plays a very important role in their lives and since this has been disrupted, they are showing signs of frustration and short-temper. Stopping therapy for these children can mean erasing any progress made over the years. Psychiatrists warn parents that in no circumstances should their therapy stop. If children with special needs are to learn essential skills, lessons even in online mode must continue. Online speech sessions and social skills training are necessary, especially for autism spectrum disorder, say psychiatrists.
How to Handle the Mental Health of Students During This Pandemic?
Any conversation about mental health for students is mostly volatile. We are surrounded by parents who ignore their children’s anxiety and stress as a ‘growing up’ phase while many children are growing up in an unstable family environment.
UNESCO has for a long time been initiating conversations about mental health among students. In fact, according to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, the organization is doing its bit to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education for all and are also promoting lifelong learning for all”. The pandemic has undoubtedly disturbed the learning graph, but we must take collective measures to ensure that our students feel safe, assured, and stress-free.
Among the many ways that parents, teachers, and facilitators can do this during this pandemic is by encouraging them to have a routine. Online classes must happen at regular hours, assignments and projects should encourage students to do more than learn from textbooks and yoga and meditation can help them deal with their anxiety. Schools and colleges must openly encourage their students to practice meditation and yoga at home since this is very much possible.
It is also important for schools to keep the channels of communication open. They should be able to identify students with anxiety and depression (even without personally meeting them) and should talk openly with them. Students who share, who are active within their homes are less prone to suffer from mental health.
Parents too play a very important role here. The environment at home must always be healthy. Talking too much about the virus can lead to anxiety. The parents have to encourage their children to participate in household chores so that the bond of camaraderie keeps their spirits up.
It is possible to deal with mental health issues among students but only when we adults are ready to talk about it and acknowledge its impact on our children.