The Pandemic and Online Learning Has Affected Student’s Mental Health As Social Workers Adapt Support To A Remote Setting

ROXANNE OH

Editor’s Note: The Jet Jotter granted anonymity to protect sources who spoke about their experiences with depression.

“The pandemic has definitely been a very stressful experience,” says an anonymous Senior who has struggled with mental health. There is no doubt that the pandemic has presented numerous challenges for both students and teachers this school year. One such challenge LHS is currently facing is an increase in mental health issues due to the pandemic.

“During the first quarantine, my depression was really bad. I just felt empty most of the time,” admits this Senior, “My depression has gotten a bit better to deal with now, but recently my anxiety has been shooting through the roof. Honestly, who is going to feel completely normal and sane through this hardship?”

A study led by the Massachusetts General Hospital released in November 2020, interested in depression rates in young adults, found that this sentiment is echoed nationally. As of October, 47.3% of young adults were “showing at least moderate depressive symptoms”, and that depression at the beginning of the pandemic was up 27% compared to previous years. Furthermore, the same study reported that 36.9% of young adults surveyed said that they had thought of self-harm or suicide. 

In a 2020 national survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, more than two in five Gen Z teenagers said that their level of stress had increased over the past year, and 81% of Gen Z teens in school said that they had been negatively affected by schools closing down.

MAKSIM TONYUSHKIN

“School has been difficult with it being online and having hard classes with new teachers,” says the aforementioned Senior. Ms. Mary Wesolowski, a social worker at LHS for seven years now, agrees that the challenges of remote learning have been an extra burden on students. “For some students, remote learning has been agreeable, and they’ve done well. For other students, it has contributed to some of their mental health issues,” says Ms. Wesolowski. An anonymous Freshman adds that when it comes to school assignments these days, “It can be hard to find the motivation.”

Ms. Allison Schlatcher, who has been a social worker for four years at LHS, observes that the pandemic has created a feeling of isolation for many students. This lack of social connection, as well as the fear surrounding COVID-19, has caused many students to feel disconnected.

Ms. Schlatcher also notes that grief over lost opportunities and experiences the pandemic has stolen is another contributor to students’ declining mental health. “The traditional four years of high school has sort of been taken away from you,” says Ms. Schlatcher.

In a typical year, LHS social workers have an open-door policy, encouraging students to drop in and talk. However, the pandemic put a sudden end to these in-person meetings. Nevertheless, Ms. Schlatcher says she has adapted very well to holding sessions on Zoom, as it still provides students a private place to talk without being interrupted. Ms. Schlatcher reassures students that, “More than ever, teachers and guidance counselors are watching for students who might need some help, and are referring them [to LHS social workers].”

In December 2020, LHS social workers launched the Student Support Services Google Classroom. It is open to all students and is meant to be a place where students can access information and various resources on supporting their mental and emotional health.

Then, in January 2021, Ms. Schlatcher began two virtual support groups––one focused on managing anxiety and the other on managing depression. Students have the opportunity to share their stories and receive feedback and support from Ms. Schlatcher, as well as their peers.

“The groups offer students the opportunity to connect with each other,” says Ms. Schlatcher. Through these groups, students have the chance to form new bonds and friendships which helps to battle the overwhelming feeling of isolation in this pandemic.

“Coming to a group like this takes a lot of courage. You’re joining a group where you’re going to talk about real problems and potentially private things,” says Ms. Schlatcher. She encourages any students who are struggling with anxiety or depression to join a group, whenever they feel ready to talk.

Unfortunately, not all students are jumping at the opportunity to talk about their mental health issues. “I’m not an extroverted person, and I’m not open about my depression. I know a lot of students don’t want to go to something like that,” says the anonymous Freshman about the virtual support groups.

The Senior expresses their disappointment that not all teachers have been proficient at checking in on their students’ emotional well-being, “Some of my other teachers have never checked in on me or other students, and some do it every two months which is not enough.”

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, people are looking on the bright side. Ms. Schlatcher views these unprecedented events as an opportunity for people to find their strength and reminds students that LHS offers tons of support to anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Everyone is trying their hardest to create the best learning environment possible in these strange times.

“Reaching out to our social workers is a reliable and safe thing to do,” assures the aforementioned Freshman. The Senior adds that “Asking for help does not mean you are weak.”

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