For many Americans, the spring of 2021 has been the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. With the easing of restrictions, more widespread vaccinations and a seeming return to “normal,” many are finding relief in seeing their friends and families again and returning to their favorite activities. However, statistics and stories alike show that students are still falling by the wayside.
The mental health crisis is real; that was true before the pandemic, and it’s especially true now. While it’s rare that anyone found the year of isolation an easy time, this time has been especially trying on students, as we know. Students adapting to the coldness of distance learning, the harshness of restricted dorm life and activity and event cancellations have been forced to cope with a life of solitude.
Numerous studies and surveys suggest that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on student mental health.
The transition from high school to college is a major milestone for students. For the majority, this means leaving the nest, living on their own for the first time, being confronted with a new environment and new peers. This is the time for students to “come out of their shells” and figure out who they are by forming opinions and being exposed to a wide variety of perspectives. But COVID-19 has changed all of that.
Instead of residence hall ice breakers, students are zooming for hours on end. Instead of chatting at the dining hall, it’s dinner for one out of a cardboard container. Instead of parties, poetry readings, sports events and theater performances, it’s screens, screens and more screens.
This adjustment has been difficult for all of us, but for students who have reached this developmental moment in which socialization and sharing is so essential, the loss can feel even more intense.
Besides this lack of contact with their peers, students are also losing contact with their mentors: counselors, advisors, professors. While mental health counseling is increasingly offered at colleges, only a small percentage of students actually seek it out. It’s one thing to say, “Call us if you’re feeling sad,” and another to systematically check in on students to make sure one doesn’t slip through the cracks.
Even students that have thrived in academic settings in the past might be especially impacted by this change. Speaking up in class and speaking up in an online class are two different experiences. While the anonymity of online classes might encourage some more timid students, it might make others become invisible.
Of course, it is normal that students are struggling. However, while some students are resilient and can find their way back to normalcy, others will remain bogged down by the aftermath of the pandemic. So, how can we detect warning signs and get our students the proper help?
Some of the warning signs of anxiety and depression include feelings of irritability, acting out, social apathy or conflict, self-harm, psychosomatic symptoms like tension or stomachaches, or changes in eating or sleeping habits. If any of these symptoms become encumbering, it is best to seek out a professional.
Finally, it is important for parents, counselors and teachers to talk about these issues with the students in their lives. Breaking down the stigma will help those invisible students become visible again. The pandemic has certainly had real impacts that cannot be ignored, so a simple “How are you feeling?” can be a great way to start to break down the damage that’s been done.
Students have been through a lot this year. For help navigating the post-pandemic college world, give us a call to schedule a free consultation today!
Neal Schwartz, Owner
College Planning of Westchester
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