By now, we are all aware of the mental health impacts students are experiencing. We see the news. We hear the stories from friends and neighbors. We even feel the impacts from our own sons and daughters.
The pandemic certainly brought many things to light, but were these impacts a direct result of it and will things improve if/when we reset post pandemic? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Truth is, mental health had an impact long before the arrival of COVID-19. In fact, research suggests, and data supports, that over the past 20 plus years, the impacts of mental health on youth specifically has been growing. This was a pre-pandemic realization especially as we saw and addressed an increase in the frequency of school violence. During this time, the mental health of youth was described as an iceberg, whereby what was observable above the surface wasn’t representative of the scope of the problem that lay unseen below the metaphorical waters of youth mental health.
Now, as we look at the impacts post pandemic, the mental health problems youth and families face can be more appropriately described as a tsunami with COVID-19 being the trigger that has sent an ever increasing wave of impact toward our schools, homes, and communities.
As with tsunamis, recognition and time to act are key.
So what can we do? First, understand that we can’t stop a tsunami, but we can recognize it and brace ourselves for it. This can take the form of recognizing the signs and symptoms of conditions such as depression, anxiety, and suicidality in addition to how these impact and manifest in others. Additionally, educating ourselves about how those who struggle with mental health aren’t lazy, broken or choosing to live this way will help eliminate stigma, incorporate acceptance and understanding as we support them, and prevent us from personalizing any impacts we may experience.
Second, while we can’t stop the waves from coming, we can learn the best way to “ride” them out.
This can entail understanding that help is available and that we are not alone in whatever we are struggling with. What’s more, if we have a friend or loved one who is experiencing impacts of mental health, we can initiate the conversation and then listen to them and meet them where they are. Often, just being present with someone who is struggling can have a positive impact on their present functioning.
Third, let them know that help and professional support is available.
“Riding” the waves can be challenging, but it is possible. There are people all around us who are likely learning how to “ride” or that are teaching others how to “ride” everyday. At the end of the day, we must acknowledge that the health and well-being of students across the globe is being impacted, and that the causes can’t be ignored. Be intentional about reaching out to those who are hurting. Be available to listen. Be specific about the supports that are readily available. We can’t afford anything less.