“I’ve struggled with keeping on top of my work,” says LHS senior Matthew Withroder regarding his mental health over the continued course of the pandemic. “My depression and anxiety got worse, especially through losing a daily structure,” adds sophomore Cecelia Allentuck.
This was a problem that many LHS students faced. A survey of the student body- which yielded 65 responses- found that about 86% of students found that their mental health worsened with the onset of the pandemic and the online learning and loneliness that came with it. The survey also shows that the greatest factor in worsening mental health was “isolation from friends,” as stated by many LHS students. This caused a large uptick in reported anxiety, depression, and eating disorders in the School Climate Survey last March.
Even while reported mental health issues increased, the use of substances to cope went down during the pandemic. LHS Social Worker Ms. Allison Schlachter says that instead “people became very reliant on technology, not only for school but also to just fill time and be busy and connect with other people. Technology does a good job of bringing us together, but there is an over-dependency on technology for filling in time and coping with day-to-day life; you can see the automatic response for people is to open their phone and to engage in something online. And in order to build true coping skills, you have to be able to go inside and be sort of alone with your thoughts. And the technology sometimes prevents us from connecting with ourselves fully.”
However, not all students found quarantine bad. One LHS student says, “I felt a lot less anxious and less stressed at home and it felt like a break to recharge.”
LHS Substance Abuse Counselor Mrs. Shelly Warren attributes this to “being physically in school is stressful for some students [being at home] relieves stress and kind of lifts their spirits.” She continued, “Going back into the ‘lion’s den’ is like ‘I have to now interact… with this many peers. The pace has picked back up, our schedule is back to six classes a day, but we don’t have the long lunch blocks and it’s still not the same feeling of being able to hang out with your friends and blow off steam.”
Likewise, 83% of students reported that being back in school, they continue to feel negative effects on their mental health. Some of their reported stressors are the return to the 6-block schedule, as opposed to last year’s 4-blocks a day and the work associated with it, as well as the constant need to interact with peers again after the year and a half break. Many students reported that their stress levels, if not back to normal, have gone down with the return to school.
Even so, this is not the case for all students. Junior Katherine Romoser says, “The jump from freshman to junior year for me was a culture shock, and it took a serious toll on my mental health. Compared to online sophomore year, junior year is horribly stressful and far worse than any school year I’ve had so far.”
Mrs. Schlachter calls the pandemic “a collective trauma that we all went through… [that] will exacerbate something within us that already existed. If there was anxiety, or depression, or social anxiety, a trauma might amplify those symptoms.” And while COVID disrupted our lives and wreaked havoc on people’s mental health, Mrs. Schlachter sees light at the end of the tunnel: “the human condition is that we are built to handle really hard things. And we are built to grow from it. Most people grow from adversity [and] from experiencing really difficult things. The key is to allow yourself to grow because we all have this innate strength. It’s just about finding it, embracing it, and growing it.”