This article is a part of the Youth Writing Outreach Program. This article was written by Viviana Cruz from Walt Whitman High School in Los Angeles. She enjoys nature and its positive impacts on mental health. After graduation, Viviana plans to attend college and pursue a career in counseling.
Healthcare experts grow increasingly concerned with the mental health challenges students experience through the COVID-19 nationwide school closure, emphasizing the need to make mental health resources more accessible.
Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects the way we think, feel, and act. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health. They’re both important components of our overall health.
Mental health issues can also affect our physical health. According to the Centers for Disease and Pervention (CDC) “Depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particualry long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Similary, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.”
In a recent study, roughly 37.1% of students reported experiencing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 44.2% documenting feelings of sadness, 20% considering suicide and 9% attempting suicide within the last 12 months. Such feelings of loss and hopelessness heightened pandemic-related stressors and negatively impacted students’ academic performance.
As a result, students might feel overwhelmed with the amount of class work and lose motivation due to the lack of stress and anxiety, leading to poor academic performance. According to the LAUSD Open Data Dashboard, the percentage of students from grades 9-12th who were chronically absent was 23.6% between 2020 and 2021. In comparison to the 19.9% of students who were repeatedly absent between 2019 and 2020, chronically absent rates went up by 3.7% in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With this sudden lockdown, students lost the support system that their schools offered, which included counseling, nutrition and health services. This also put many kids at risk of being neglected at home and subject to domestic violence in an abusive household. According to a recent study, Jianli County in Hubei province, China, has seen reports of domestic abuse violence to the police more than triple during the lockdown, increasing from 47 cases in 2019 to 162 cases in 2020. The school closure made the lack of identification and reporting of abuse harder for school staff.
Dr. Zanonia Chiu, a registered clinical psychologist from Hong Kong, said, “Going to school had been a struggle for [some children with depression] prior to the pandemic, but at least they had school routines to stick with.” Chiu also stated, “Now that schools are closed, some lock themselves up inside their rooms for weeks refusing to take showers, eat or leave their beds.”
Students with special needs were also especially at risk. Many special needs kids need to be in school in order to learn; however, virtual schooling has made it difficult for them because they lack the proper support from their school.
Dr. Chi-Hung Au, a psychiatrist from the University of Hong Kong, stated “[Special needs students] can become frustrated and short-tempered when their daily routines are disrupted.” Au suggested parents create a schedule for their children to help reduce this anxiety.