Working as a school counselor at Tyrone Area High School, I have become increasingly concerned about the impact COVID -19 is having on our students. Multiple lines of evidence indicate that the pandemic has profound psychological and social effects. I believe we will be seeing a ripple effect for years to come to include but not limited to distress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, insomnia, fear of contagion, substance abuse and chronic stress reaction.
Sadly, teens are keenly aware of the uncertainty of the future and realize the pandemic is far from over. Nothing in their lifetime has prepared them for the current state of our educational systems, economic systems and/or social systems, including the lack of athletic and extracurricular activities. Uncertainty, in and of itself, can be associated with depression and anxiety. Isolation of teens from school, friends, jobs, and entertainment is detrimental to mental health and historically economic shutdowns were associated with mental health disorders and suicides. (International Journal of Medicine 6/20) Suicide rates peak with unemployment as evidenced by the Great Depression. Not all teens who talk about suicide will act on it, but any and all mention of suicide should be taken seriously and reported immediately. The national suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-talk or Altoona Crisis Center can be reached at 814-889-2141.
It will be my goal this school year to help decrease stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness amongst the student population. I plan to help students feel a strong connection by being available to them either in my office or on scheduled Zoom sessions. I will encourage students to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods and exercise, as well as employ proper handwashing techniques. Discussing proper coping skills with our students is essential at this time as well as regular check ins to see how students are feeling. The goal is to build a resilient teen in this time of extreme stress. Anxiety and stress reduction techniques will also be employed. I also encourage parents to conduct regular check ins and stay in touch with your child’s doctor to discuss any concerns. If you notice your child has changes in mood that are unusual, changes in behavior, lack of interest in activities, a hard time sleeping or eating, problems with memory or concentration, changes in appearance, increase in risky behaviors, crying spells, or thoughts of death or suicide please contact your child’s physician, a licensed therapist or the crisis numbers referenced above.
In summary, I would like to wish all students the best possible school year. I know we can all get through this together, one day at a time! Let’s stay optimistic and start each day remembering what we are grateful for. Please have your student come to the guidance office if I can be of assistance. Stay well.