Mental Health in a Pandemic

2020: a year that will go down in history and be remembered for a lifetime. We were introduced to the Covid-19 virus, or as some of us call it, the coronavirus. This deadly virus changed many people’s lives right before their eyes. So much has been changed and taken away, and most of it is out of our control. It impacted us all in some way or another, in both good and bad ways. It has especially impacted the student body and their mental health. 

Mental health is a big focus for many schools while in person for the general age group. Faculty and staff educate kids and offer ways to help students’ mental health by joining clubs, meeting with counselors, etc. But since the virus has caused us all to stay home, we can only imagine the impact mental health is having on students without those few things the schools try to get students to be involved in, let alone no social interaction to say the least. 

Of course other parts of the world are all different right now when it comes to who gets to go back in person as of January 2021. But as for Apex High School, we are remaining online for the time being. Our last day of official in person school was Friday, March 13th, 2020. That was the last day many students and teachers saw one another, let alone talked to each other. Since then, we went for a small period of time without having classes until the virus started spreading. This finalized that we would be staying home from the remainder of the semester. This led to the School Board coming up with the general idea to start getting students the materials they needed and getting them plugged into online Google Meets and classes. As months went by, many seniors prepared for college alone, walked across the stage with a modified audience, and much more. As for all of the other grades, they all finished their school year without a full year inside the brand-new building. 

Ethan McCallister, a junior at Apex High this year, mentioned in an interview, “I’m honestly not a big fan of online school; however it’s gotten a lot easier for me and the teachers since we’ve gotten a lot more used to it.” Ethan was not the only one to mention his disliking for online school. Many others I interviewed said the same. Ethan’s statement about everyone becoming so used to this way of learning even though it is challenging makes you sit back and realize how much our world has changed. It is almost like our lives have developed a “new normal.”

I was also given the opportunity to interview a graduating student from the class of 2020, Abby Clark. Abby graduated from Apex at the end of the hard online semester and was one of the many seniors who had to prepare and then leave for college without many chances to see or say goodbye to their friends and teachers. Abby is now attending Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Luckily for her, Boone is not too far from home, so hopefully when this pandemic is long gone, she will be able to see some of her old friends and teachers again. In the meantime, Abby Clark made it clear that the college experience she had in mind was much different than the one she is currently experiencing at the moment. However , many times in the interview Abby mentions just how grateful she is that she at least gets to attend some classes in person and meet new people, specifically her roommates. 

During the interview, Abby mentioned how one of her biggest struggles with online learning is developing more stress and social anxiety. She said her mental health has definitely had its ups and downs. “I was experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety as I started all new college classes and especially when I had to take exams, but I was also optimistic about how the semester would go!” Abby said this and followed with replying, “I became a little more introverted because staying in my dorm all the time made it easier for me to have social anxiety whenever I would hang out in large groups on campus.” Even though she started with some difficulties, Abby explained how beginning online for her first year of college despite the specific circumstances helped her to better adjust to her surroundings at the school. “The in person classes were a great escape from being in my dorm all day long, and it was nice to have social interactions with people in the classroom,” stated Clark.

Something many students and teachers have had a hard time with is not being able to see or meet one another. Of course if your camera is on, you might get a glimpse of what someone looks like, but meeting them and having face to face interaction is such a better way to develop relationships rather than talking to a box on a screen. “It’s pretty hard not getting to know my teachers like I have in the past,” says Sebastian “Sebas” Pennisi, another junior at Apex High. During our interview, Sebastian mentioned how he is not a fan of having to be home all day and wishes he could get out and see his friends more. However, he enjoys being able to learn to stay on top of his work and go at his own pace. “Sometimes it’s hard reaching out to others, which takes a toll on the mind…” he continued. “There’s a realization that most people outside the immediate surroundings don’t realize is just how much you are taxed mentally and physically during all of this.” Sebas understands personally, along with many of his friends who have experienced similar when it comes to mental health and being impacted the way they have during the course of online school. The last point he left with me during our interview however, was a positive note: “I feel like even though I’ve faced some lows during all of this, I’ve definitely changed as a person for the better. I have accomplished a more positive outlook on life. The first six  months were rough, but I owe it to my parents to allow me to do things remotely with friends and be connected without getting too out of the loop.”

Everyone I was able to interview mentioned a very key point starting with this statement Abby Clark made: “Covid has definitely had a large impact on everyone’s mental health! Social anxiety is most likely to become more common and people are experiencing large amounts of stress from being stuck at home and without any social interaction.” Due to the lack of social interaction, this caused many others to lose more contact with friends, even online. Due to this, it caused even more struggles with isolation. When people experience isolation, it makes it harder for them to feel happy or find the energy and motivation to even wake up in the mornings. Of course that’s understandable when you’re stuck at home all day every day. However, Abby had some good advice: “The best way to relieve this stress is to redirect your stress onto something else. Like exercising! Or even just writing down your feelings instead of repressing your feelings!” This piece of advice is definitely worth giving a try, and from personal experience, I would say it definitely helps. 

Please contact your school counselor if you need additional support.  Outside of the school day, should you need mental health resources, you may reach out to Alliance Access and Information Center 24 hours a day to reach a licensed clinician: 1-800-510-9132, or for more immediate emergencies, please call 911.

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