Isolated Students May Struggle to Stay Mentally Healthy
The Covid-19 pandemic has hurt the mental health of a large number of students. As reported by the National Institute of Mental Health in May 2020, seven out of ten teenagers reported mental health difficulties, with 61 percent reporting an increase in feelings of loneliness, 43 percent reporting feelings of depression, and 55 percent stating they had feelings of anxiety.
All of this suggests that educators must be on the lookout for signs that a student is having difficulty in class. They must also adopt new strategies to promote the social and emotional well-being of students while they are enrolled in distance learning courses.
Listed below are a few ways in which your students’ mental health struggles might manifest themselves, along with suggestions for communication and activities that can assist them in navigating this difficult time.
Several studies have found that social isolation and loneliness among children are associated with increased mental health struggles; another study, which looked at the effects of social isolation across the lifespan, found that it can impair executive functioning skills in adults.
When students are experiencing loneliness, they may reach out to teachers at all hours of the day and night, make frequent attempts to engage in nonacademic topics, and speak negatively about their abilities.
Here are some strategies that can be used to help:
Create virtual lunch groups for students to interact with one another while chatting, watching funny videos, or preparing simple food.
After school or in the evening, host online games (for example, through Houseparty) to provide opportunities for students to socialize and have fun with one another.
Connect with a school in a different state or country and set up email pen pals with students from both schools. With the help of a platform such as ePals, students can connect with other students all over the world, including those on the other side of the world.
Clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities can be hosted virtually. Even if you are unable to meet in person with students, you can still organize clubs or practices online using technology.
Utilize online journaling tools such as Google Docs to allow students to express their thoughts while also providing you with the opportunity to respond. It is possible to communicate effectively and encourage students to express themselves, share their ideas, and remain connected on a more personal level through the use of journaling.
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Many students may experience feelings of hopelessness and depression as a result of the many aspects of uncertainty that exist in the world and the inability to predict when things will return to normal. Depression can alter a person’s ability to think, impairing their ability to concentrate and remember, as well as their ability to process information and make decisions.
You should be concerned if your students are disengaging from class discussions and assignments, making comments about the work being pointless, having a pessimistic outlook, or expressing a lack of energy and motivation. These behaviors may indicate that they are suffering from depression and feelings of hopelessness. The importance of sharing these observations with a school counselor or social worker cannot be overstated.
Students who are feeling hopeless can benefit from the following strategies:
Self-care plans should be developed as part of a class assignment, and students should be asked to identify strategies that will help them achieve academic, physical, and emotional success. This activity can easily be integrated into a variety of subjects such as English and language arts, wellness, art, or social studies. Calculating percentages of time spent in activities is something that students can learn in a math class.
Instruct students to earn extra credit by completing self-care tasks such as writing an entry in a gratitude journal or keeping a journal of happy thoughts.
Include mindful moments and brain breaks in your day. During Zoom classes, you can watch a short mindfulness video, listen to calming music, take a few minutes to practice deep breathing, have a short dance party, or do some jumping jacks or stretching exercises to keep things interesting.
Concentrate on quality rather than quantity. You may need to shorten the length of assignments or homework problems to concentrate on ensuring that your students produce high-quality work.
Post a laugh of the day/week, as well as a thought of the day/week, on this thread. Post a funny video, meme, or song on your virtual classroom page, as well as information on self-care strategies and mental health resources. (See example below.)
Many students may be experiencing panic-like feelings at this time. They are feeling overwhelmed and coping well with their anxieties. This can have an impact on students’ ability to learn because it makes it difficult for them to take in and process information, as well as remember information they have learned in the past. It has the potential to obstruct learning.
The following characteristics of students who are experiencing feelings of panic and anxiety: needing constant reassurance, showing a regression in academic skills or their ability in working independently; requiring increased support to complete work; becoming easily overwhelmed; shutting down or stopping engaging in class, or focusing on the what-ifs
Educators can take the following steps to assist students who may be experiencing feelings of panic and overwhelm:
Individualize your praise and give it to them regularly. Send emails, direct messages, or even e-cards to students to express your gratitude in private. To quickly acknowledge student work and comments during Zoom classes without interfering with the flow of the class, use emojis (e.g., a thumbs-up or one conveying joy) to convey your appreciation.
When creating assignments, limit the number of options to a few and break them down into smaller steps. When faced with a plethora of options, students who suffer from anxiety can become overwhelmed. It is beneficial to provide feedback on each step of larger assignments to help students feel confident that they are on the right track.
Students should be allowed to redo assignments. It is possible to promote a growth mindset in students when you allow them to incorporate their feedback into tests or written assignments.
Students’ opinions should be taken into consideration. Solicit student feedback through the use of surveys to gauge their feelings about the pace, workload, expectations, and level of assistance they require, among other things. Allow students to ask for assistance in a variety of ways, such as through direct messages, emails, or a question forum on the virtual classroom page, among other options.
Breakout rooms can be used for one-on-one work with students. Some students may require assistance with task initiation and the beginning of assignments; therefore, using a virtual breakout room during independent work times can assist them in talking through an assignment and developing a work plan for the assignment.
Teachers who support the social and emotional well-being of students can make a significant difference in their students’ lives, especially in the face of stress and distance learning. These strategies emphasize the importance of interpersonal connections as well as compassion and empathy.