According to the Washington Post, it appears that many people have underestimated the mental health crisis that the pandemic would have on schoolchildren. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that more students are visiting the hospital emergency rooms due to mental health problems compared to the same period in 2019. While the quarantine has exacerbated symptoms in at-risk students, it has also caused healthy students who had no prior signs of mental health issues to display symptoms of depression and anxiety. This has significantly affected their ability to succeed academically – many students are struggling with schoolwork and are failing courses due to social isolation preventing them from feeling plugged in.
With mental health problems on the rise, what are some things that educators (and parents) can do to make accommodations for students who are vulnerable to mental health struggles?
Decrease the quantity of homework. In an article for Education Week, students in the pandemic have reported being swamped with too much unnecessary homework, which contributes to their feeling of academic stress. By assigning homework that is meaningful for them instead, they can focus their energies on work that is engaging for them.
Be flexible with the deadline. Considering that many students with depression are struggling to get out of bed or eat regularly, it could be beneficial to alleviate some academic stressors by allowing them to turn in their work late without penalizing them. This consideration can also be helpful for students who may have lost family members due to Covid-19 or are struggling with troubles in their family life.
Encourage group work and discussions to foster human connection between classmates. Students have reported that they feel disconnected and alienated from their classmates and are unable to connect to teacher lectures that feel too much like watching a video. To help students feel plugged in, it may help to encourage them to interact with their peers as much as possible through group work and discussions rather than focusing on giving them lectures.
Encourage students to unplug from technology. It has been well established that overusing technology can negatively impact the development of children and teenagers by creating feelings of isolation as well as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, students are more wired to their technology than ever, which can exacerbate their mental health problems. Encouraging students to step away from the screen can help them alleviate this stressor.
Incorporate mental health check-ins into their classroom. Teachers can assign homework for their students by telling them to do something for their mental health over the weekend. They can also incorporate mindfulness activities into the classrooms, by doing things such as small meditation exercises.
Overall, students need to be gentle with themselves if they are struggling to engage academically during the pandemic. After all, we are living in unprecedented times and everyone should prioritize their health, both physical and mental.