• Stodia Jackson

High School Students: Mental Health Challenges During COVID-19


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many challenges. One group, in particular, that has been negatively affected is high school students. This select group falls within a category of the population known as adolescents. Adolescence is a time of continued brain maturation, particularly in the brain regions concerned with adolescents' physiological and emotional changes. Stressors experienced during this crucial developmental stage have been shown to have adverse effects on the development of the nervous system. The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of such stressors. According to a report by UNESCO, now over a year since the start of the pandemic, half of the world’s students are still dealing with full or partial closures of schools.


The school system provides structure and routine to the lives of many high school students. Behavior and educational expectations revolve around the system provided in school environments. The social aspect experienced in the school environment is also key in the development and routine of adolescents in high school. Social experiences such as interacting with friends, making new friends, and engaging in social exchanges with authority figures, who are non-family members, are all important experiences that contribute to the learning and development of students.


In addition to the lack of socialization school environments used to provide, high school students in their senior year also grapple with the uncertainty of their futures, particularly during this precarious time. For example, they may worry about being accepted into a college or whether they will be prepared to handle college life. In addition, many adolescents work at local restaurants, stores, movie theaters, and gyms. However, with the closure of these businesses, many adolescents have lost their source of income which they may have been using to save up for their tertiary education or to assist with household expenses. These stressors, coupled with fear of infection, sleep problems, and grief all contributes to stress-related disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.


Supporting Adolescents’ Mental Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic.


In response to the complex challenges posed by the pandemic on adolescents' mental health, a multilayered approach is needed. Some of the recommended strategies include improving the resilience of high school students by equipping them with self-help action plans to support their mental health. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress”. Self-help strategies could include encouraging adolescents to create short-term goals and a schedule to go along with them.


Additionally, adolescents can be encouraged to practice acts of gratitude and compassion. This may include engaging in volunteer work or lending support to a friend in their time of need. Peer support systems are also a development that can help students check in with each other. Through these network hubs or mentoring support systems, adolescents may be able to cope better with the stresses of the pandemic. However, these online network hubs need to be monitored by the school or parents. Community mental health organizations could also partner with high school students, their families, and teachers to co-create mental health promotion programs.


Adolescence is a crucial period of an individual’s development. Stressors during this stage can have adverse effects on the nervous system which could lead to a disruption in normal mental, emotional, social, and physical development. The COVID-19 pandemic is one such stressor that has negatively impacted the lives of adolescents. The closure of schools and the suspension of normal daily activities could result in short and long-term mental health challenges. Thus, adolescents need support that can help them build resilience to cope with this difficult circumstance. This requires a multifaceted approach as the challenges faced and coping strategies vary among individuals in different parts of the world. Many of these approaches are also dependent on the availability and access to resources. However, simple strategies such as practicing mindfulness, generosity, and compassion can prove to be invaluable coping mechanisms.

 

Speaking Plainly:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many challenges. One group that has been negatively affected is high school students.

  • Adolescence is a time of continued brain maturation, particularly in the brain regions concerned with adolescents' physiological and emotional changes. Stressors experienced during this crucial developmental stage have been shown to have adverse effects on the development of the nervous system.

  • A multilayered approach to the complex challenges posed by the pandemic on adolescents' mental health is needed.