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Light at the End of the Pandemic Tunnel: Students and teachers overcome mental health issues

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down schools in the United States in March 2020, many of us didn’t realize the enormity of what we were dealing with. We thought it would be gone, soon, and resume to our normal lives. But after the light of this pandemic tunnel changed to darkness, we saw the pandemic reshape our lives for almost a year. It changed our mental health, affecting it in ways we never imagined. I, personally, never thought about the challenges that it brings to teachers and students, as I have no children of my own. So, I decided to, unselfishly, dig into how the pandemic causes these unwelcomed obstacles.

Let’s face it. Covid-19 poses a threat to all age groups. With that threat, we all want to be safe and, therefore, the school systems have attempted to ensure that safety and wellness. At the same time, we can’t help but see how it’s changed the normal class routines to feeling isolated.

A child that once looked forward to carefree chatting and giggling with friends in the cafeteria, now manages their lunch hour at home, like an employee eating alone at their work desk.

Teachers that thrive on constant, in-person communication with their students, have to manage all interactions by way of computer at home, leaving them feeling as frustrated or isolated as students. In these instances, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a loss of structure and when that happens, one can lose their sense of purpose.

What are some of the things that happen when there’s no feeling of structure, routine or purpose when caused by this pandemic?

  • Feeling Isolated from others

  • Severe Depression

  • Anxiety

Do both, students and teachers experience these symptoms or issues from the pandemic? Sure they do. However, they are displayed in different ways. Let’s look at the differences and similarities.

No man is an island

Humans need interaction with others and are social beings by nature according to Forbes. In contrast, the switch to distance learning has become very isolating and depressing for many students and teachers. What’s the difference between the two? For one, teachers have always been taught to be positive and to never show negative emotions while communicating with their students. Once class has ended, they switch over to manage their home life and that can bring a mental overload. Many times they give so much of themselves to their students, that they might feel guilty of reaching out for help.

So, why do they sometimes feel they need to do this alone? Why the guilt? Could it be that they are trained to show strength, forgetting that they are not “super-human?” When I was a child, I looked at my teachers as being unlike no one else. I felt that they didn’t have a life other than coming to school and teaching us. That’s so far from the truth.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help

The first step is for teachers to be aware that there are easy and confidential ways to get help. According to Psychology Today, online support systems with other teachers are available and make it really easy to share their similar feelings and experiences. For example, Tele-Therapy is a form of online communication that helps cope with the stress of isolation and loneliness, focusing on wellness and the steps of maintain mental health. It works so well that many teachers are taking advantage of this service on a weekly basis.

Remember your friends and laugh

It’s so important for teachers to remember to take time out and nurture their friendships, while social distancing. Masking up and taking a walk with a friend or asking someone to join them in a social justice effort is a great way to gain a sense of purpose and motivation. For those that don’t want to go out, renting a good comedy breaks the monotony, as laughter is great for the soul. Have to remember to try and forget, for a moment, what’s going on around you.

What about the children?

Children can express their feelings of depression in different ways than adults.  Many say that kids are resilient, but we’re in a pandemic. They’ve never dealt with something like this before.  Like adults, children are gaining weight as a result of the depression. They’re less talkative with their family, becoming withdrawn or wet their beds; they throw more temper tantrums or angry outbursts.  It’s important to watch for these signs.  According to the Mayo Clinic, kids tend to have a more difficult time expressing their feelings and recommend that friendships with other children can give kids much needed support and build a sense of belonging. 

Make time during pandemic

Making time for online play dates or meeting outside to play (masked up) is a great way for children to have a sense of normalcy and fun. Children have to be reminded that the Covid-19 pandemic is temporary. That can encourage their inner spirit. It’s a voice of affirmation that says there is hope, while adjusting to how to get through the pandemic. Even setting aside a time for children to talk about whatever they want or feeling that day, goes a long way in preventing loneliness or depression.

Why am I worried all the time?

Both, children and adults, worry or have anxiety about the same things at this time: When will this Covid-19 pandemic be over? We’re making less money and don’t have enough food to eat. Will we get the virus if we’re around other people that might be sick?

In a study done in the state of Louisiana, more than half of education teachers are making less money than before the pandemic and over 40 percent are experiencing food insecurity. Over forty percent of respondents reported symptoms of depression or anxiety and more than 10 percent said they seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days, compared to over 4 percent who said the same thing in 2018.

When we get worried, we can spend much of our time surfing the internet about what we fear. One of the most common complaints from worrying during the pandemic is losing sleep. This can affect our whole being (i.e. immune system; memory).

Did you know that constant screen time on computers and laptops can disrupt the normal sleep schedule? A study from Sleep Health Solutions states that children can acquire 15 minutes of sleep deprivation for every hour spent using a tablet. Adolescents can loose 26 minutes per night for time spent texting, watching TV and online schoolwork.

Adults can experience less time sleeping and more time grading virtual homework, while helping their own children with their schoolwork, not to mention other tasks they have to complete around the home. What’s worse is that these habits can last for months.

Both age groups can combat worry and sleeplessness by doing the following:

  • Develop healthy eating habits (i.e. avoid eating late at night/stay away from junk food)

  • Voice-guided meditation in the morning and at night before bedtime (easily found on YouTube

  • Stimulants like soft drinks and caffeinated coffee are best to avoid

  • Try to engage in fun, physical activities with your friends (i.e. Zoom karaoke or dancing)

The good news is, this Covid-19 pandemic will not last forever and based on past pandemics, we have seen this to be true. We have to support one another. You can’t ignore the fact that mental health is just as important as physical health, for both children and adults. Take care of it. When you take care of a car, you get out what you put into it.

How about you? Do you know a child or teacher that is experiencing mental health challenges during this Covid-19 pandemic? Are there tips from this post that you could use for yourself? Let me know in the comments or please share with someone that you think would find this helpful.

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