Students struggle with mental health during pandemic

On March 13 of 2020, millions of students from across the nation spoke of a virus that would shut down schools and limit social gatherings. Many students joked about it and made light of the situation, claiming that the school days would be an extension to their spring break. These jokes and happy feelings soon came to an end when their sports and activities were canceled, restaurants were closed and the government announced the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. Now, a full year later, students are still struggling to grasp society’s new normalcies. This pandemic has had tremendously negative effects on people’s mental health, specifically students. 

Hillary Collins is a current senior at Grayslake North and was one of the many students impacted by the massive shutdowns. The new lifestyle that follows COVID guidelines is hard for many people to adjust to. 

“I feel like I’ve gotten used to it, which I’m glad I have gotten used to, but also it makes me really upset. There are days where I’m just so irrationally angry about it,” Collins said. 

Countless numbers of students are missing out on memorable high school experiences, and this can be very draining for those who want to go back to having a regular high school experience with football games or other fun activities. Even with these feelings of sadness and with the nostalgia of past memories, Collins highlights that it is important to continue to follow guidelines to stop the spread of the virus. 

New ways to stay in touch with friends and family have been created, but this unavoidable form of primary communication is thought to have some lasting effects.

I believe that the pandemic has moved teens to communicate more through social media. I believe behaviors that look like introversion could really be sadness or other emotional states related to the shift in “normal life” to the “new normal” being experienced now,” said Catherine Dodd, AP psychology teacher at Grayslake North. Introversion in teenagers is speculated to increase due to the lack of social gatherings and public presence. 

“The pandemic definitely affected social interaction among adolescents, which is a key component of their development and important for maintaining relationships,”  Dodd said. Many are dealing with other lasting effects of isolation as well. 

Health teacher, Carolyn Gaffke, recognizes that the lack of change of scenery that online students are dealing with is affecting their work performance in school. Not changing areas when working all day in front of a computer is unhealthy for an individual. Gaffke shared this same struggle when she began teaching online.

“I’m happy that I’m back at school because I was teaching all day on the second level. I found out that I needed to start teaching from my basement because I felt better about myself by having somewhere else to go,” Gaffke said. She encourages students to move around more than usual and enjoy the upcoming warm weather. 

“You need to be able to go outside and get your vitamin D. That’s something that I think is going to be affecting everyone’s performance is the fact that we are probably very deficient in vitamin D right now,” Gaffke said 

Hillary Collins recognized that her work performance has been damaged by the pandemic as well, which is common among high school students. 

“As much as I’d like to act that I am the same student as I was, I’m not,” Collins said. Is this normal? Yes! The decrease of motivation is prominent due to the tedious routines that students are facing for online schooling.

“My work ethic is gone. That used to be something I was so proud of. I would complete assignments a week in advance, sometimes before they were even assigned. Now I’m working on assignments the day they are due,” Collins said.

Collins’ experience with motivation is nothing out of the ordinary and is a huge obstacle that many teens are facing. Even though the pandemic contributes major hardships for people, there are ways to cope with this new reality. 

“Students can cope by taking breaks. Along with having a healthy eating, sleeping, activity routine, make sure to have fun in healthy ways,” Dodd said. Trying to bring back feelings to make an individual feel normal is important in staying healthy. Letting the mind rest after a long day of staring at computers is necessary. 

“There are many ways people can care for their mental health during the pandemic. One way is to know that this situation, although seemingly endless, will not last forever. This creates a healthy perspective,” Dodd said. This virus will pass, and students will be able to try to go back to socializing with their friends. 

“The more interaction you have with another human, even if it’s in a Zoom during class, is good. Whatever you can do to have human interaction is huge,” Gaffke said. 

If an individual is struggling with their mental health, there are many resources that District 127 offers, such as the school student services and social workers. Other organizations exist for the general population like and the Nation Suicide Prevention Hotline to list a few. Things will get better, and if the right safety measures are taken, life as many people knew it can begin to return.