COVID-19, adolescent anxiety, MetroWest adolescent health survey

Charles Sachs, a clinical developmental psychologist in Natick who works primarily with children and adolescents, said he had to turn down potential clients almost every week.

It is at full capacity.

“It became more common as the pandemic progressed,” said Sachs, who is also a professor at Framingham State University.

Unsurprisingly, school officials and experts say the pandemic has wreaked havoc on the mental health of adolescents and young people as they grapple with social distancing, loneliness, social unrest and social unrest. anxiety about the COVID-19 virus.

And as school districts move into full face-to-face learning, they’re starting to understand what the impact has been on students.

Aggravation of a growing problem

Anxiety, stress and depression among the region’s youth were already on the rise before the onset of COVID-19. For example, the MetroWest Teen Health Survey reported that 36% of college students reported having had a “very” stressful life in 2018.

But the pandemic has brought additional mental health issues. Since the start of the pandemic, students have faced loneliness, social unrest, and other factors, such as financial stress. According to a study, proportion of visits related to children’s mental health emergency departments among all pediatric visits increased and remained high from April 2020 to October.

Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 increased by approximately 24% and 31%, respectively.

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The schedules of the pupils have been disrupted. The school – where children spend most of their day – has been closed. Back to school, it was radically different: distance learning or hybrid learning. It doesn’t matter what pivot to distance learning some districts had to do if there was a COVID-19 spike detected.

“You don’t have a routine, there is no rhythm,” Sachs said. “It’s impossible to get into one and it’s extremely stressful.”

The 2020 survey of adolescents has been postponed due to the pandemic. The goal is to administer a new one this fall.

Some adolescents have also been affected by the impact of the pandemic on their parents or caregivers, such as unemployment, financial or emotional stress and fear of COVID-19. Others may have been forced to spend more time in isolation in abusive or dysfunctional homes due to social distancing and quarantine requirements.

Return of in-person learning

School officials have noticed that the return of full in-person learning has helped reduce student anxiety. But some are still struggling as they navigate pandemic-era schooling, with masks, distancing and other factors.

Shai Fuxman is a behavioral health expert and principal investigator working at Education Development Center, a global nonprofit organization that administers the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey with funding from the MetroWest Health Foundation.

“To go to school, it’s so important to make friends and share time with friends,” Fuxman said. “It’s hard to do when there is plexiglass, masks and 6 feet away… When you don’t have those friendships, then school becomes this weird place and doesn’t feel like a safe space that does. part of your community. ”

As such, Fuxman advised teachers to be on the lookout for several “red flags,” including a lack of commitment to schoolwork or a more socially withdrawn appearance than before.

“Most kids will do well and that’s great, but we also have to be careful of those whose experience won’t be so easy,” said Fuxman, who is also a member of Natick’s school committee.

“Anxiety tends to generate avoidance”

Some students have not returned at all and remain in distance learning. Lisa Kingkade, director of socio-emotional learning at Milford Public Schools, said the remote setting offered some students relief from anxiety this school year.

“The social pressure of adolescence has been removed. There are some students we’ve spoken to who can’t wait to come back in the fall, ”Kingkade said.

Lisa Kingkade

Sachs said these students will need additional support in order to make the transition as smooth as possible.

“Anxiety tends to breed avoidance,” he said.

As communities move into the ‘new normal’, Sachs said, ‘people’s resilience will allow us to strike a new balance and get back on track.’

“We’re going to move into something new that will work,” Sachs said. “It’s going to happen, we just have to be confident in it and keep working on it. But we’ll get there.”

Zane Razzaq writes on education. Contact her at 508-626-3919 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @zanerazz.

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