Mental Health Survey: Bringing a Spotlight to the Emotional Impacts of the Pandemic
By Isabel Sim (9)
Any mention of the pandemic usually conjures images of high-stress situations: students struggling to connect online as technical difficulties hamper their ability to log on to virtual classes, teachers essaying to convince more students to participate, and families scrambling to make ends meet as they wait out the crisis. Whether or not students have been affected by the virus, the emotional toll has affected us all.
From November 23 through December 12, 134 high school students across the district participated in a mental health survey posted on the Ayala Bulldog Times Instagram page, after several parents voiced their concerns about their teens’ mental health during the district’s monthly board meeting on October 15. Participants were asked to rate their stress levels during this year while distance learning and during traditional learning on a scale of one through ten. They listed some of the major stressors in their lives during this year, rated how often they experience anxiety and/or depression, described support they have received, suggested resources they believed the community should provide to support students’ mental health, and evaluated their stances on a variety of statements. Responses ranged from “Not being able to see friends and family and go outside on a day-to-day basis gives me anxiety” to “Quarantine/the pandemic has helped me to become more compassionate and understanding towards others”.
Surprisingly, the average stress level for distance learning (7.39) was only about 1.18% higher than the average stress level for traditional learning (6.28). However, a sizable portion of the group (78.8%) somewhat to strongly agreed that their mental health has been affected by the pandemic. Many of the students’ major stressors in their lives included grades (92.4%), managing time and responsibilities (81.1%), quarantine or being unable to see friends in person (65.9%), the health and safety of family and friends (53%), as well as getting adjusted to distance learning (53.8%) and technical issues with their computer and internet (51.5%). Among others, major current-day issues such as climate change and injustice (46.3%) and family members who are at high-risk for the virus (37.9%) were also listed. A few others reported that a family member who had passed away, “losing ⁅their⁆ home to a fire,” and “pressure from family.” As a result, 80 percent of surveyed students reported feeling anxiety and/or depression as a result of the pandemic at least sometimes or often, and less than a quarter (22%) reported feeling constant anxiety and/or depression.
“There is nothing normal about what we are doing right now from BOTH the teacher and student perspective. I know students are struggling. Some have had conversations with me, emailed me, parents have reached out to me. Kids are anxious, stressed, depressed … about school, life, carrying the burdens of their own families. It’s a lot!” Jennifer Puente, an AP Psychology and Social Sciences teacher, explained.
However for some students, the solitude of distance learning has brought them peace and confidence, causing them to participate more often and easing the anxiety of speaking in front of the class. “⁅Distance learning⁆ has helped me in a way because I am very shy and I don’t like going outside. Staying home has created less stress for me. Obviously this pandemic has affected many people and I hope they are staying healthy … but for me it has helped a lot. I also get less scared of going to school ⁅online⁆ and doing presentations. As well as talking in front of the class, I raise my hand more often now,” Allison Shih (9) explained.
When prompted to describe whether they have received support from anyone, participants listed a variety of emotional support systems ranging from friends, parents, and teachers to therapists, pets, and counselors, including church youth groups and school programs such as choir and theatre. One anonymous participant described meeting with a counselor every other week, while another stated that their friends have been a loyal support system.
On the other hand, many students reported having little to no support at all, feeling lonely, or having no one to talk to, which may indicate how some students have had difficulty adapting to the virtual learning environment.
“Not really anyone from my family [has supported me]. I mean sometimes they ask and cheer me on but I don’t really feel like it’s support. The people who have supported me the most would probably be my friends,” said one student, who wished to remain anonymous.
Mental health check-ins from teachers, virtual relaxation rooms, “one-on-one calls between a trusted teacher or counselor,” therapy sessions, more leniency from teachers, and the promotion of mental health awareness through clubs and social media accounts were many of the popular requests participants suggested when asked what types of resources the community should provide to support students’ mental health.
Lindsay Shen, a freshman, suggested that the school should adopt a more open mindset in approaching students, moving away from demanding certain behaviors and instead offering support to students during this time. “More awareness from the school and from teachers can support students! I think teachers are so focused on giving schoolwork and teaching that the statement of ‘come to me if you have any questions’ doesn’t apply to students and their mental health. I think teachers and the school in general should be more open about supporting students and being or providing a good mental health resource.”
Club organizations such as FindKind and Ayala Psychology Club have been actively working towards reaching out to students on campus.
“I believe that we can all give something, whether it’s knowledge or experience. Currently, I’m using my platform to strengthen the students as a whole and promoting a sense of unity, inclusivity, and togetherness while considering current societal issues they face on a daily basis,” newly-elected USB Secretary and founder of FindKind Club Gabriella Torres (10) stated. “Through @findkindclub, our organization has realized that kindness does not have to stop because of a pandemic. We adjusted to fit the times and quickly started projects to fit the needs of students. I realize that we are not the students of tomorrow but the students of the NOW. Students are suffering NOW. We acted and we are still making a difference.”
Torres currently runs and manages @unityforstudents, a student resource account that addresses current societal issues such as mental health, self-forgiveness and healing, public speaking, normalizing the usage of pronouns, the difference between equity and equality, handling hate speech, toxic positivity, cyber bullying, and sexual harassment. She works with CASL (California Association of Student Leaders) and @icanhelpofficial to provide equitable resources for students on campus to support individual students’ needs, varying from different cultures and backgrounds.
For more information on student resources, please visit the Ayala Instagram accounts for @unityforstudents and @findkindclub, or visit @caslfan or @icanhelpofficial. To learn more about mental illnesses and about how the pandemic is affecting people’s mental health, please visit PsychCentral, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the National Eating Disorders Association, or the National Alliance on Mental Illnesses.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741-741