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The Coronavirus and its Toll on our Mental Health

Authored By: 
Gabriella Skwara, Health teacher

It was lovely getting to meet many parents in person again after the long hiatus of remote and hybrid instruction.  This past semester has been full of these happy reminders of more normal times. With all that being said, it is still important for us to acknowledge how much things have changed and that change is never easy, regardless of whether it is for the better or the worse. In fact, life changes rank amongst the key stressors that humans have to cope with.

The Washington Post recently ran an article containing statistics on how teens had been impacted by the pandemic and interviewing high school students about their experiences during this past year and a half. The students’ various thoughts about last year as well as this year’s return to in-person schooling largely echoed what Beekman students have reported feeling when we discussed the topic in my Health class last semester. While a return to fully live instruction has largely been a source of joy for students, there is a smaller group who preferred remote education, and felt and/or still feel anxiety about being in the classroom. Generally speaking, remote schooling was more likely to have been a negative experience or to have had a negative effect on students’ academic performance. On the other hand, parents will be happy to note that the majority of students felt that the pandemic had brought them closer to their families! This too was echoed by Beekman Health students.

One key thing to note, is that a year and a half is a huge amount of time when seen from the perspective of children and teenagers. Missed reunions and social events are particularly difficult, especially if they were a part of the future that students had envisioned for themselves in middle- or high school.  Life events during our teen years often can't just be made up, leaving some students still mourning these losses. Additionally, we are all still processing the past year and relearning the basics of face-to-face interaction and live classes. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised if some Beekman students didn't perform as well as expected on their first semester report cards. Ultimately, we need to remember to give ourselves and the kids some grace, and to acknowledge the stress and anxiety that they or we may be experiencing.

In Health, we are interspersing lessons on stress management throughout the semester. It’s amazing what a huge difference a ten-minute guided meditation can make for our anxiety and energy levels. My students and I would certainly recommend the practice, which is as easy as tuning to the Headspace Guide to Meditation on Netflix. So far the universal consensus is "two thumbs up."