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Covid’s Impact on our Student’s Mental Health: Concerns, Tips and Strategies

I became instantly afraid for one of my students as I read his essay last Sunday. He was writing in response to the optional Covid question, which reads:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

Whenever there is an ‘optional’ question or prompt on the Common Application, I always encourage my students to respond. As I was reviewing this student’s response, I came across a sentence that stopped me cold. He wrote about a time last May when he planned out his own suicide. He actually wrote: “I couldn’t go on and wanted to kill myself.”  I immediately stopped, reread the sentence, then picked up the phone and called the parent.

As an independent educational consultant and a nationally certified counselor, I have an ethical obligation to report to parents anytime I feel that a child might be a danger to himself or others. Luckily, when talking with Dad, I learned that the family was aware and had gotten mental health support for their son.

thinking about college essayThis is only one incident this year when I have been concerned for my students’ mental health. I have had students report being depressed, lethargic, and anxious. And the statistics recently being reported supports my concerns.

Since the pandemic began in March of 2020, there has been a 42% increase in high school students reporting depression and anxiety. For LGBTQ+ students, the statistics are even more alarming with 73% reporting increased anxiety, 67% increased depression, and 48% of students’ reporting thoughts of suicide.

Prior to the pandemic, most high school students received their mental health support in their high school guidance office. Last year, only 14% of students went to school in person; 60% of students received their education only online, and the rest did a little of both. The isolation and lack of in-person interactions with peers and support from adults has added to the increase in mental health concerns.

One of my students stated to me that the reason he was ‘stressed’ was because he didn’t see any of his friends, and his mom lost her job. It’s not only the students that have mental health concerns. The parents do also. Lack of insurance and job insecurity or loss has increased the feelings of depression and anxiety in many adults. Obviously, this pandemic has wreaked havoc on most of us.

So, what can you do? Actually, there is a LOT that you can do.  First of all, and most importantly, if you feel that your child is either a danger to themselves or others, reach out for help, either to your doctor, family, or friends.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can help. Their number is 1-800-273-8255 (English) or 1-888-628-9454 (Spanish) If you need immediate support, call 911.

How do you know if your child is a danger to themselves? If they tell you that they want to kill themselves, they are a danger to themselves and need help. If your child is saying things like: “This is too hard,” “My brain is foggy.” “I can’t sleep.” “I don’t want to get out of bed,” then you might want to explore getting them some mental health support. Remember, though, you are the expert on your child. They might need some help and they might not. If you are concerned, explore further by asking your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to let you know what they are seeing before you get outside support.

Listed below are several healthy techniques I have used with my students to help them to cope with what they are feeling. I strongly encourage you to try some of these out if you are concerned about your son or daughter’s mental health.

  1. Meditation – I am currently training with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield to be certified as a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher. I have been meditating for about 30 years now. It has added much clarity, kindness, and presence to my life. I begin every session with my students and parents asking them to close their eyes and do some deep breathing for 3 minutes. This helps to calm the nerves of everyone present.
  2. Gratitude – Every time I meet with students, I ask them to tell me of one thing for which they are grateful. Focusing on gratitude allows us to lean into all we must be grateful for that we take for granted. If we are focusing on gratitude, we aren’t focusing on how our lives are now different.
  3. Exercise – Physical activity increases the dopamine in our body, which supports physical and mental well-being
  4. Look for moments that feel good – By staying present to what is happening, it is easy to find moments in your day where you feel happy or good. Take a deep breath, pause, and feel. Then remember.
  5. Choose Happiness – I have a dear friend who was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumor 20 months ago. When I recently saw her, after she had two rounds of Chemo and Radiation, she told me, with a BIG smile on her face, that she is ‘choosing to be happy. She believes, as do I, that her positive attitude can improve her chances of living.  I believe it also.
  6. Focus on helping someone else – By doing this, you are not focusing on your problems but on helping someone else. It improves your mood and your mental health.
  7. Pause – When you catch yourself being critical of yourself, just stop. Close your eyes, take a breath, and pause if only for a moment. By doing this, you are interrupted your negative self-talk. Try it! It works!
  8. Journaling – Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you at times to release them from your body.
  9. Reaching out for support – Call or text a friend. If they don’t respond, reach out to another friend.

Mental Health Resources: 

  • Center for Young Women’s Health and Young Men’s Health: These websites provides a series of guides on emotional health, including on test anxiety, depression, bullying, and eating disorders. www.youngwomenshealth.org and www.youngmenshealthsite.org
  • Go Ask Alice!: Geared at young adults, this question and answer website contains a large database of questions about a variety of concerns surrounding emotional health. www.goaskalice.columbia.edu
  • Girls Health.Gov: The “Your Feelings” section of this website offers guidance to teenage girls on recognizing a mental health problem, getting help, and talking to parents. http://girlshealth.gov/feelings/index.html
  • Jed Foundation: Promoting emotional health and prevent suicide among college students, this website provides an online resource center, U Lifeline, a public dialogue forum, Half of Us, and Transition Year, resources and tools to help students transition to college. http://www.jedfoundation.org/students
  • Kelty Mental Health Resource Center: Reference sheets are provided that list top websites, books, videos, toolkits and support for mental health disorders. http://keltymentalhealth.ca/youth-and-young-adults
  • Reach Out: This website provides information on specific mental health disorders, as well as resources to help teens make safe plans when feeling suicidal, and helpful tips on how to relax. http://au.reachout.com/
  • Teens Health: Providing a safe place for teens who need honest and accurate information, this website provides resources on mental health issues. http://teenshealth.org/teen/your_mind/
  • Teen Mental Health: Geared towards teenagers, this website provides learning tools on a variety of mental illnesses, videos, and resources for friends. http://teenmentalhealth.org/
  • National Alliance for Mental Illness:  https://nami.org/
  • https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health:  https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Meditation Resources