2021 Student wellbeing data trends & COVID-19 effects and strategies
Today’s world is ever changing and quite different than what anyone could have predicted ten years ago. With advancements in technology, social media and global crises such as global warming and COVID-19, young people find themselves navigating a world ruled by unprecedented challenges that parents or educators could have not seen coming.
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that research shows us, youth emotional wellbeing and mental health appears to have worsened in the past 10 years (Keyes et al., 2018). Globally, data is showing us that young people today are presenting with greater acuity and complexity when it comes to mental distress. This leads to a need for more complex and targeted evidence-based interventions from systems and services that are often underfunded and under-resourced. Unfortunately, research supports this, telling that 1 in 5 students are unable to get the support they need when they seek mental health support (Youth 19 Report). Not surprisingly, alongside mental health difficulties, we have also seen a decrease in school engagement, higher drop-out rates and poorer academic performance (Sanchez-Gracia et al., 2018).
We can't deny that COVID-19 has added another dynamic. Whilst we may not always “see” COVID-19, we still “wear” the stress of the pandemic with us wherever we go:
- parents are parenting and working with this additional stress;
- teachers are teaching and trying to support students with this additional stress;
- young people are trying to manage all the “typical” adolescent difficulties and development whilst also “wearing” this additional stress.
In fact, a literature review of the effects of COVID 19 on the mental health of children and adolescents showed that as many as 70% of students are struggling with irritability, 50% are struggling to manage anger and up to 63% of students are managing depression symptoms (Panchal et al., 2021).
Research out of Europe by Clemens et al. (2020), suggested that there are three emerging patterns along a spectrum when it comes to the effect of COVID-19 on the development and education of young people:
- There is a first group of students who are thriving in the pandemic: lockdowns and the retreat to home has provided a quiet and stable environment with structured support from parents. These students enjoy online learning, do not find themselves socially excluded or isolated and much of their usual supports remain in place.
- The second group of students seem to be mildly adversely affected: their developmental opportunities are on pause. These students may have too few resources to consistently engage with online education and, because of social distancing and isolation, they are no longer able to practise social and emotional interpersonal skills.
- The final group of students are trying to survive the pandemic: they may be in families with increasingly negative interactions and have been deprived of the safe haven that school and their communities provided. For these students, engaging with education is no longer a priority as they navigate and manage more primal needs e.g food, safety and sleep.
So, what do we do?
Comprehensive reviews (Panchal et al., 2021) have shown us that during distressing times like this, parent–child communication is protective for anxiety and low mood. So, even though we are in closer proximity to each other we need not to forget to connect with each other.
It is time to be socially connected whilst physically distanced. So, how do we support our students to do this?
- We need to acknowledge that the mental health of students has deteriorated in the past decade and schools are in a unique position to provide support and intervention.
- We need to encourage exploration of the natural world rather than a screen. Social media is an important connector of people but it is also isolating people from their immediate surroundings and the outdoors.
- We need to support young people and their families to keep communication to their support systems intact so they continue to experience belonging and safety.
- We need to accept that COVID-19 is here. It is time to get creative in how we can use technology to support students and families regardless of lockdowns or restrictions.
Would you like to learn how to apply these strategies into your school settings?
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