ST. LOUIS – Even after two years, society is still feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many national studies show that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of children and students.
The quarantine period in the early stages of the pandemic prevented many children from socializing with children their own age. Researchers say that any kind of isolation can be psychologically distressing and uncomfortable.
On March 13, 2020, the presidential administration declared a nationwide state of emergency. Two days later, US states began implementing shutdowns. Everyone went into isolation; it was called quarantine. This lockdown caused everyone stress and in some cases was uncomfortable.
Preliminary studies show that social distancing affects children and young people. The lack of supportive structures during the pandemic is a mental health burden.
“We haven’t had any downtime since the beginning of COVID,” said Tina Meier, founder and director of the St. Charles-based Megan Meier Foundation.
Megan Meier said the services the foundation offers are in greater demand.
“The kids who had situations that were going on at home. Whether it was food insecurity, physical trauma, sexual trauma, or abuse, whatever it was, they didn’t get the support they needed,” Meier said. “And then there’s the isolation of not being around children.”
Meier said that children see when their families are fighting. You hear about diseases that can cause feelings like fear. Society has completely flipped and all of these changes can lead to anxiety.
During this time the children should still go to school. They were either in a hybrid situation or fully online school.
There were also mask regulations and concerns about who was masked and who was not.
“There’s so much going on and the kids feel it,” said Meier. “Then they’ll be brought back to that school year when it’s full [classroom] and they are not emotionally regulated.”
They may not have been as active, and lack of exercise plays a role in a child’s development.
Students experienced boredom, lack of sleep, a lack of structured school and changing eating habits in the early stages of the pandemic. These factors have affected the self-image of children and young people.
COVID-19 has left these young adults unable to participate in typical age-appropriate activities. They may also have experienced the loss or death of a family member due to the pandemic.
Meier said the students she sees now are getting younger and younger. Before COVID-19, they were adolescents and teenagers. The students she sees are not at the level they should be for their age group. They lag behind in maturity, socialization and emotionally.
“Well, because of the onslaught of need, everything is now waiting for it,” Meier said.
“Especially kids who are LGBTQ youth. In the past, they could have gone into supportive environments,” says Meier. “They’ve been at home and if their family life hasn’t been supportive, they can’t go to school and they can’t go to support groups.”
LGBTQ and transgender and non-binary youth are more likely than cis youth to show symptoms of depression, anxiety, or both. LGBTQ youth are about three times more likely than cis youth to say they can’t be themselves at home.
“It can be tough, and we’ve seen it get younger,” Mieir said. “Our foundation is going through a huge shift, and it used to be mostly middle school, but now we’re seeing a lot in elementary school.”
Trans and non-binary youth are three times more likely to say they feel insecure about their current life situation than cis youth. They are also almost five times more likely than cisgender youth to report having difficulty accessing mental health care.
Mieir believes it will be difficult for a while before the school can set up more support systems.
“We’re already seeing it,” Meier said. “That’s why we have such a high spike in calls and requests for in-person presentations.”
Meier said nobody wants to do virtual anymore. “Children are not at the age they should be socially. They followed pedagogically and were in classrooms with all these kids,” Meier said.
Meier said because the students aren’t emotionally regulated, they can’t handle conflict.
“You don’t deal with a teacher in a certain tone or in a certain way. They can’t handle sometimes hearing side noises that they weren’t used to before. For them everything is different again and so they just have trouble keeping track.”
This is a replica of a chart. Click here to view the current one.
As of May 2020, there has been an increase in mass shootings in America compared to previous years. For example, there were 88 shootings in July 2020, 42 shootings in July 2019, and 45 shootings in July 2018.
The National Center for Education Statistics says the number of school shootings has ranged from 11 to 93 over the past 20 years.
In 2020–2021 alone, there were 93 school shootings.
“That’s why we try to offer the support in the schools, and our advice is free,” said Meier. “We just want to make sure there are no obstacles and delays in service. It’s a lot less staff time and we’re still able to deliver these services to the children much more efficiently.”
If you or someone you know is having trouble, call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or dial 988. To contact the MMF, click here.
Suggest a correction