It may be summer but perhaps it’s time to start thinking about the return to school, post-COVID?Tweet
Durning the height of the COVID waves, students in Nova Scotia, Canada were in and out of school. While it’s true our little province weathered the pandemic far better than most, when it comes to the mental health fallout we weren’t so lucky.
To put it simply, it’s bad. As we were overtaken by wave after wave of lockdowns and restrictions, our emotions began to feel a bit like they were on a teeter-totter. One moment we were feeling the lows of depression and isolation, the next relief. As if that weren’t enough, we were met with a barrage of anxiety, both when going in and out of isolation. And so, the cycle went on. This is hell on one’s head.
But most notable was the effect it had on children. Not just in Nova Scotia, but everywhere. Students were home, then back in school, back home, and back in school again. A roller-coaster ride of seclusion and socialization, learning in person and struggling over Zoom. This is not good on a developing brain. Consequently, educators loosened their educational standards met in pre-COVID times.
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The scope of the problem became evident to me by watching my own children muddle through it all. When home, they nested near the TV or locked themselves away in their bedrooms playing video games. And when it came to online learning, both were demoralized by the experience, to say the least.
As far as I can tell, all that sitting around wasn’t good on their drive to succeed in any sense of the imagination.
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From outright anxiety and depression to a loss of motivation, mental health has taken a hit on our younger folks. And sadly, there has been little in the way of a response from governments, to tackle what some experts are calling the next pandemic.
So, then, what lies at the heart of the problem? Besides the lackluster response by governments to address the youth mental health crisis, there are several psycho-social issues when it comes to the development of our young minds.
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For example, my children were, for the most part, motivated and goal-driven in pre-COVID times. However, this motivation slowly became replaced with depression and a lack of desire to do anything. “When will we be going back?” “I hate this online learning.” Who could have blamed them? As a result, it slowly chipped away at their mental wellbeing… As we know, adolescence is a time for exploring young people’s identity and figuring out their social standing within the walls of their learning institutions – and both are near-impossible to explore when home.
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Anxiety disorders were on the rise in kids long before the world was ground to a halt by this virus. One can only imagine the scope of the problem today. And it’s not just anxiety disorders. Depression is also on the rise. As a result, one doesn’t have to think hard to understand that a mental-health-care system, in crisis long before the pandemic, would be tested like never before in 2021. A pause in the development of children can conceivably cause angst and depression, something we as a society should be aware of.
One major barrier preventing diligent care for kids? The insistence of running a two-tiered mental health care system here in Canada. A system made up of for-profit and public mental-health sectors. This approach feely, jams up the public system and denies millions of people the care they need, because 1)the public system is stripped of mental health professionals, lost to the private sector, and 2) the for-profit sector provides services only to those who pay. This leaves a chronic shortage of professionals in the public system. In my view, there’s something so wrong with going in for care and swiping a credit card like you would at your local cafe – but I digress.
The return to school, post-COVID
Now, that the numbers of vaccinated people are going up and the case numbers are falling, it’s time to turn our attention to a mentally-healthy transition back into the school’s environment. But what would that look like? Especially for children…
As with any major challenge laid at the feet of society, its response to reintegrating children is key. We must remember, this is the future of our nations: what we do, or don’t do will impact the future. In my view, we must make health care free for everyone! Equal access will help our kids of any background get back to living. For example, we could have a rotation of mentalhealth professionals go to the schools. much like you see a doctor in clinics.
Teachers and parents alike must be able to see the signs of struggle. Firstly, children’s development is stunted. A developing brain will have to catch up to a year that has been cut out of not only their lives, but also out of their natural progression. Knowing this, we can be kinder to the irritability and anxiety; listen and take a “how can we support you?” approach. Essentially, you will also have to become a student of child/adolescent behavior. Our children’s future depends on it.
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Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com – The return to school post COVID
And the first-time students, the ones who have only known isolation, may struggle with the transition too. Think of it this way – it’s a bit like going from being in the library for a week and then into a train station. It will, in all likelihood, be very anxiety-producing and overwhelming. If you see this, ask if your school will work with you to see if your child can go half-days. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to keep your child home for a day every now and again. Maybe take the day off work and commit to one-on-one time. Be aware that they will have to go to school, so be sure to set firm boundaries. Caving and keeping them home all the time can create or exacerbate separation anxiety in little ones.
Sadly, the transition won’t be slow and steady. For one thing, organizations just don’t think of these things. (Nor do they know about neuro-development.) With that said, you know your child and you need to do what’s best for them. For instance, some kids, especially ones with a mental-health condition, are going to need self-care days. We need them, and so do they. It’s worth noting that exterior systems, like schools, function more like a switch. It’s “all or none,” so be observant.
In closing, I would like to leave you with this: Parents, I know your life is busy, but your children are going to need you. Make an effort to pull them away from their devices and stay dialed in with what’s going on with them. Lastly, fight like hell to get them the help they need, should they need it. They will thank you for it in the end!