Priority Challenge #5: Mental Health & Trauma
Mental health & trauma is a persistent challenge: it ranked as practitioners’ number one priority challenge in 2019, and continues to be a priority challenge in 2020.
COVID-19 has produced widespread stress, anxiety, and fear. As school closures occurred suddenly, and the separation from friends and some family members were not anticipated, educators report that students are experiencing trauma from both social isolation and fear of the unknown. Many children are experiencing overwhelming sadness, worry, and confusion, which makes concentrating on learning difficult. During remote learning, some teachers shifted their planned lessons to provide additional social and emotional support for their students.
The impacts of the pandemic have been more pronounced for students already dealing with mental health issues and other adverse or abusive experiences in their home lives. During remote learning, being away from the resources, relationships, and safe haven that school provides can be devastating. At a time when children and youth already experiencing anxiety and depression may have heightened symptoms, the availability of treatment is limited and some key interventions are challenging to access remotely. Addressing traumatic events is especially difficult for school communities when students and teachers are not able to process their emotions in person with caregivers, professionals, and others who understand their experiences.
“We had a student commit suicide at the beginning of the school closures and we have had many others struggling with mental health. [Many of these] students do not have access to telemedicine, or their only access to care was at school.”
– High school teacher
Education leaders are considering the return to school, and wondering how they can provide appropriate mental health supports for students with insufficient resources.
“We can’t even begin to imagine how this crisis will impact our students’ ability to learn when they return. Will they feel safe in the building? What situations in their home will impact their overall mental health? We have far more questions than answers. Mental health needs will certainly increase, but we will have the same capacity to support them.”
– High school principal