Even three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many are experiencing long-term mental health issues as a result. Despite many opening up about their experiences with issues like anxiety or depression, too many Americans - our youth especially - are still suffering with no reprieve.
COVID made it abundantly clear that we are experiencing a mental health crisis in the United States. The pandemic brought a rise in substance abuse and drug-related deaths as well as suicide rates. These issues disproportionately impact youth, causing students’ mental health to suffer dramatically. COVID has created more pressure on students than ever before, with increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness, lack of physical activity, and more unreported or overlooked abuse cases. Students need more help than ever to rejuvenate their own mental health to live happy, fulfilling lives.
The pandemic has been a huge source of trauma even for most everyone, but youth have experienced the worst of it over the past three years. As noted before, more domestic abuse cases have gone unreported or were overlooked according to EdWeek. On top of dealing with mass uncertainty and paranoia in regards to safety, many young people were forced to stay with parents in a situation where child protection agencies were rendered immobile. Lack of school referrals heavily contributed to this, as everyone was confined to their homes. Trauma can be easily linked to these situations and undergoing a process to undo this trauma can often be costly and overbearing. Healing from trauma is a long process and it can manifest itself as physical symptoms that they feel unable to control. Trauma can arise from many situations, ranging from mass violence to bullying to simple unanswered anxieties. The pandemic hindered schools’ ability to spot students who may have been experiencing trauma and loss, leaving them to shoulder the weight of an aggressive mental health issue.
COVID & Student Stress
Stress has been exacerbated by COVID. As if students weren’t already stressed enough before the pandemic, more students faced even worse cases of depression and anxiety during the pandemic. On top of this, mental health care was also affected, despite telehealth being more widely used and accepted. Substance-use disorder services had been cut, while many students under the age of 19, especially low-income students who are most vulnerable to this issue, were not able to access care at this time. These mental health struggles can continue to impede one’s daily life, as the pandemic has veered many students away from normalcy and the ability to balance their schedules. Many students, specifically low-income students, were unable to get regular or preventative check-ups and delays were even longer on routine health appointments. Because of these instances, many now have to play catch-up with their health goals.
Stress can easily exacerbate feelings of hopelessness. Similarly to how students have had to approach their health, no longer maintained urgently and immediately, social skills and learning capabilities have also declined due to the pandemic. Stress can be a contributor to why students feel unable to catch up when it comes to learning. Students may also feel “behind” socially due to being isolated for so long. The long-term stress from COVID’s impacts must be acknowledged and addressed.
COVID & Physical Activity
In addition to stress and how it affects mental well-being, the physical consequences are also looming. According to EdWeek, physical activity had dropped 21% due to the pandemic. In a world that is in desperate need of coping mechanisms, walking, running and other physical activity can be very useful for coping with mental health issues. Because the pandemic had barred everyone from leaving their house, many with mental health issues were barred from these coping mechanisms. UCSF has also shown that physical activity has not yet been restored to pre-pandemic level. This is concerning considering many mental health issues are exacerbated by a lack of physical activity and vice versa. Students can positively be impacted by physical activity and it is important that schools emphasize this, even with something as simple as 15-minute mental health walks.
How Neolth Can Help
The pandemic will continue to have long lasting effects on people all over the world - we are just seeing the beginning of this. It’s critical to prioritize your students’ mental health before more intense issues arise. Neolth is a digital stress and mental health support program for students and educators. We’re on a mission to help you stress less, build resilience, and become a part of our compassionate community. Our app helps you when you’re feeling overwhelmed with self-guided content, personalized for your mental health journey. Learn more at neolth.com/schools.
About the Author:
Mike Friala (he/him) is a senior at SUNY New Paltz studying Economics. He joined Neolth primarily to explore his own mental health, hone in on his writing, and to write about the importance of the overlap of financial wellness and emotional and mental well-being. He’s volunteered abroad in South and Central America and tutors students with disabilities, which has pushed him to find and do work that can help others. He feels that Neolth is a platform that does the important work of spreading awareness on mental illness and explores ways to positively help those who are suffering.