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Kids Under Pressure: Students’ mental health a concern during the pandemic

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 7:36 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Circumstances beyond anyone’s control are forcing kids to grow up fast. Covid-19 affects physical health, but it’s the mental health of students that is concerning many health experts.

“I’ve had to come up with a bunch of different ways to stay organized this year,” says Altoona High School Junior Greta Schlafer.

In a year unlike any other, high schoolers are having to handle more than ever before.

“As a junior, I wasn’t expecting to have to figure out when I’m going to do school each day and how I’m going to get assignments done when I’m in my room or in my house,” said Schlafer. “Yeah it’s definitely been a struggle.”

Greta is not alone when she says it’s been a difficult year.

“Our school psychologist is very booked this year,” said Schlafer.

According to a recent NBC survey of 10,000 high school students across the U.S., more than half say they’re feeling more school-related pressure. High school is hard enough. Throw a pandemic into the mix and it’s taking a toll on kids’ brains.

“I have been a social worker for this is my 13th year. I’ve not seen anxiety at this levels previously,” said Jennifer Kronenberg, the mental health coordinator for the Altoona School District.

“The stress of having to figure out the unknown, that unknown of what’s happening with COVID, when is it gonna end, is it gonna affect my family. That causes this kind of total background anxiety I think that’s constantly in their minds,” said Heather Burich-Holle, an Altoona School District counselor. “Even as educators we talk about the COVID brain.”

“This isn’t just academics,” said Kronenberg. “This is, they’re providing child care for younger siblings. We have seen more children working than ever before. And they’re working long hours and that does concern me.”

The long hours are leading to a lack of sleep for an age that needs it most. The NBC survey shows 43% of students report losing sleeping, with some getting less than four hours a night.

“I’m not doing school seven hours a day, but it feels like a lot more,” said Schlafer.

Take away a teen’s coping mechanism and you’re hearing many students say they feel alone.

“Not really being able to go out and have fun and let loose because you’re always worried, ‘will this possibly expose me?’ and so just being careful of everything you do, which really brings you down,” said Schlafer.

In NBC’s survey, 47% of students say the strength of their relationships with their peers has decreased.

“For the people in the ‘B’ days, I never see them,” said Schlafer. “It’s hard to keep in touch with people.”

With all of this stacked against students, mental health experts say they’re working harder than ever to lead kids to a brighter future, and to give them the tools they need to build it themselves.

“I’m so proud of my students for being able to assert their needs,” said Kronenberg. “I think that’s really been a critical part of the whole pandemic is watching these kids find the words to say, ‘I’m struggling. I need help. This isn’t working for me.’ How powerful to be a young person and to be able to do that. We have to just keep providing that hope that tomorrow is a new day. Hopefully we’re gonna round the corner and get there soon and we want that just as much as the kids do.”

Kronenberg said the pandemic brought attention to needs that weren’t being met, which led to the creation of more support and services for students. Another social worker is being added to the Altoona School District to help manage the needs of K-5th grade students.

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