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Did Restricted Schooling Really Keep Students Healthy?

by Annika Rodoff

Imagine, you are about to enter the most exciting year of your life yet, one that you spent your entire life working towards. Everyone around you is building that year up, exciting you for when it is finally your turn to experience it. That year, senior year of high school, was just around the corner for me. But, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything came to a screeching halt. Sure, a long spring break turned online schooling was a relief for a busy junior; but come senior year, COVID’s effect on my life turned for the worst.

As events were canceled one by one, my mental health dwindled. I began questioning my worth and whether I earned a typical senior year. I noticed similar mental effects in my peers, family members, and even the first graders I had been teaching. Students were bound by safety measures that snatched almost all the activities associated with school and replaced them with persistent academic pressure. As a first-year college student, I have found that COIVD-related restrictions experienced by college students have translated into long-term mental health problems. Online schooling and schooling with restrictions, while necessary during the current public health emergency, have greatly impacted students’ mental health, evolving into an additional public health emergency that students cannot fight through alone.

This relatively new problem involving the COVID-19 pandemic is just one aspect of the thriving issue of mental disorders among families, school faculty, and students, particularly college students. Stress, pressure, uncertainty, confusion, and inconsistency on top of academic responsibilities have extensively hurt students’ mental states. 22% of parents have noticed their children experiencing worsened mental or emotional health during the pandemic, an alarming number that does not even account for issues students keep hidden (1). As the pandemic set in, about three-fourths of surveyed high schoolers attested to struggling with mental health issues with about 81% of them claiming the pandemic increased the intensity of those struggles beyond their previous levels (2, 3). As such, the pandemic highlighted a pre-existing public health problem by catalyzing the gains mental health issues had been making on students. A similar effect is echoed in college students among which 20% have experienced significant decreases in mental health during the pandemic (4). Many, about 89%, of these students have even drawn a correlation between the events of the pandemic and their growing stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues (4).

The prevalence and frightening growth of mental health issues among students must be recognized as the reason for new and greater efforts to combat the issue. As one of the most strongly impacted groups, college students also have the highest potential for dangerous consequences to arise from their poor mental and emotional states (1). Behaviors such as self-harm, physical disorders, substance abuse, or even suicide can result from the lonely, unmotivated, isolated, and forgotten feelings to which college students are especially suspectable (1). Worsening mental health can also inhibit academic performance, which can have implications for success in the workforce. Ultimately, the pandemic initiated and worsened mental health issues among students that they may be affected by the rest of their lives. 

Active Minds is a nonprofit organization that aims to encourage and allow college students to comfortably seek help for their mental health conditions (4). The organization’s founder, Alison Malmon experienced the tragic loss of her brother to suicide after he struggled in silence during college (4). The organization is devoted to helping the countless students in positions like Malmon’s brother through action and student advocacy on over 1,000 schools and college campuses nationwide, including Shenandoah University (4). Outreach and speaker programs supplement those clubs to promote healthy environments through the message that mental health must be talked about with transparency (4). The organization believes that students are behind change; so, they aid students in joining together to build strong environments at their academic institutions (4). As such, these clubs and programs are typically run by a student board and participate in activities aimed at raising awareness for mental health, promoting positive mental practices, educating peers and communities about the topic, advocating for more resources at their schools, and assisting peers in getting help and accessing resources (4). Active Minds recognizes that most young adults first reach out to friends when they need help; so, they implement a student-to-student model to successfully create supportive environments at academic institutions (4). Active Minds even has a five-year plan currently in place to reach thousands more students with their programs and services (4). In response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Active Minds’ presence and support on college campuses have grown to utmost importance as the number of students mentally struggling has sharply risen (4).

With an unprecedented proportion of students suddenly struggling with mental health disorders, support and resources must be elevated to an unprecedented level. While mental health issues should be more openly talked about, struggling with those issues must not grow more common. This new public health emergency has hit students of all ages, especially the 18.1 million students attending higher institutions, yet many are suffering the dangerous effects of their disorders alone in the largely virtual society (5). Please visit Active Minds’ website at https://www.activeminds.org/get-involved/take-action/ to see how you can become involved in and/or supportive of their programs and mission as the pandemic persists. I encourage you to join SU’s Active Minds program to receive support for your mental health and raise awareness of mental health-related issues to help fellow students. Consider donating to the organization so they can continue to create supportive environments for students across the nation. Any monetary donation will help bring a program to another campus, a speaker to a new group of students, and a level of support and help that will both restore hope and save lives in students feeling the unhealthy effects of restricted schooling.

References 

  1. Kaiser Family Foundation. https://www.kff.org/. 
  2. Mental Health Implications of Virtual Learning on Student Engagement. Intercultural Development Research Association. https://www.idra.org/resource-center/mental-health-implications-of-virtual-learning-on-student-engagement/#. 
  3. The Mental Health of High School Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Education. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2021.719539/full.  
  4. Active Minds. https://www.activeminds.org/.
  5. College Enrollment & Student Demographic Statistics. Education Data Initiative. https://educationdata.org/college-enrollment-statistics.

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