Students’ Mental Health At Risk Since School Closures

As a result of six months being isolated from friends and activities that would otherwise have taken them away from their homes, many students are experiencing significant, negative changes in their mental health.

Students have been living in a protective isolation from COVID-19. For students in Ontario, between March 13th until September 11th, in-person school has not been part of their regular routine.

When school buildings closed in March, classes went online and students went into their homes, all due to the precautionary efforts of school boards around the province.

Students from the region anonymously shared glimpses into their mental states before, during, and after the closure of schools in their area.

Students shared their thoughts of self-harm, refusing to abide by all the precautions laid out by the government, mental breakdowns, and even suicide. 

For one student, having their parents watch over them all day during their school work was stressful. “When I first heard that school was getting shut down for those initial two weeks back in March, I was actually excited,” they said. “If I had known it was [going to] end up being online school, and the rest of the year pretty much cancelled, I would have been a lot less excited.”

“My parents were super strict with my work, and were just as mad about the whole situation as I was. I was in grade 11 last year so it was a pretty important year to be focused and my parents didn’t exactly help. I wish I could have at least just gone for a walk with my friends or something. School was already pretty stressful, but now that I have someone over my shoulder 24/7, it just added to the struggles.”

When isolated, not only were people taken away from many connections they had, but they were also forced to see the same people everyday.

One particular response was from a 16 year old female student. “This quarantine has been the worst experience of my life, [and that is] competing with my experience coming out into a Christian home and family,” she said. “I miss my friends. I miss being able to live. I miss the stress of the school life.”

For another student, dealing with isolation as well as balancing school has been mentally damaging. “I feel like I’m drowning,” they said. “I’ve been struggling to stay on top of things, but to keep myself in check I’ve always subconsciously relied on my friends and other people for confirmation. Now, there [is] almost no one around for me compared to before. Everything’s just so uncertain. I’m glad that we get to go to school again, but my mind has been damaged, and is gonna take years to repair.” 

Two Child and Youth Workers at WCI, Ms. Gerrie and Ms. Chad, have both been working for several years at WCI, supporting students when dealing with their mental health with their years of wisdom.

It is not uncommon for students to look to their friends for therapeutic purposes, so when that liberty was taken in March, the effects on those students’ mental health has been negative.

Chad explained how important it is to maintain connections: “A lot of students rely on their friends for a feeling of safety and comfort, but when those connections were taken away by the quarantine, it can have a big impact on their mental health.”

Chad also spoke about how the current general order of operations and atmosphere of WCI can affect a student’s desire to seek help. “Having arrows everywhere, the restrictions of moving around the building, and finding the courage to come to the front door – it’s not as inviting as it used to be,” she said.

Gerrie explained the importance of “taking the first step” to seeking help and offered general advice for students who feel unmotivated to find professional help with their mental health, and motivation in general:

“A lot of kids – as Ms. Chad said – rely on their friends for therapy; however, while that may be a good first step, getting students to walk through the door and open up to us is a whole other story. But after they do, students tend to feel very comfortable opening up, and allowing us to help, which just goes to show that as soon as you take the first step in anything, the rest comes easier. The first step is always the hardest.”

It would be disingenuous not to include in this article that suicide does seem like a viable option to more students and people in general, than the statistics portray. There were some students whose responses in the form were a disheartening reminder of this. Mental health is a heavy topic, and should be treated as such, regardless of any discomfort that a peaceful and educational conversation may cause, and suicide is a part of that conversation.

It would be the responsible thing to include that the students who shared some particularly unfortunate things about their mental health, up to and including thoughts of suicide, are doing relatively fine now after being contacted and directed to professional help. 

Even without the mainstream and typical events of this year, mental health is something that was not given much attention on a day-to-day basis. And now with these uncertainties, the effects of this inattention are becoming more apparent.

The change in the school environment has changed the energy from its usual charismatic, accepting, and welcoming charm, to a more rigid and bleak atmosphere. Because of this, students may be less likely to seek out the professional help that the school offers, and are more likely to resort to something they are more familiar with, like the loving presence of their friends.

Chad and Gerrie advocate that students should not hesitate to reach out to those around them, especially if they need someone to talk to. There are countless stories of people who never found the help they needed and suffered more than they had to. Both Chad and Gerrie are easily contactable at WCI via the school’s website, by email, or as they each put it, “walking in the front door.” Finding someone to help in the fight for one’s mental health is worth pursuing.