COVID-19, part of our lives for nearly three years, has impacted the way we live, work, shop, and interact with family and friends.
But, for adolescents, the pandemic’s impact on their mental health has been particularly acute.
Andrew Campbell, De La Salle Collegiate’s school psychologist, said the second semester of the 2021-22 school year was when the pandemic’s impact really surfaced, particularly among juniors.
For those juniors, now seniors, their freshman year was disrupted in March of 2020. Then, for sophomore year, they were in school, masked, sitting through 90-minute classes in a block scheduling format that reduced movement. Most sports and other activities, such as the school play, just didn’t happen.
Campbell noted that junior year is already stressful, as students are taking more advanced classes, and starting to consider college.
“We didn’t know the ramifications of the amount of isolation that young adults were going to be experiencing, and we started seeing the symptoms,” Campbell said.
He noted that a lot of academic deficits became visible with underclassmen, as well as deficits in social skills.
“They missed a lot of opportunities to interact and develop their social skills,” Campbell explained.
“We saw an increase in absenteeism. Kids who usually did well were not engaging in the classroom. Some who had participated in sports during freshman year distanced themselves, and lost interest. Some developed poor hygiene and apathy, along with dramatic changes in their normal eating and sleeping habits.”
Campbell continued, “We found some felt so isolated they were using video games and social media to replace normal activity. Some had begun self-medicating.”
Campbell said the DLS drug testing program takes an educational and therapeutic approach, with very little emphasis on punishment or discipline. His work with students models that approach.
He worked with students to get a sense of their needs, and helped them set goals to address their depression and anxiety. He encouraged students to set a daily schedule, and make plans to engage in physical activity, such as walking the dog, lifting weights, or even taking out the trash.
“Social skills are still a focus. There’s a trickle-down effect as some students came from schools where they were virtual for nearly the entire school year.”
Campbell says the newly restructured freshman seminar will be helpful.
“Those classes are goal-directed, and teach students to set a goal and get organized, as well as touching on major topics, such as bullying and college readiness,” he said.
“I’m not a therapist,” Campbell said. “I encourage students and their parents to reach out for outside help..”
Campbell is optimistic about this 2022-2023 school year. “This past summer was healthy for these kids. They had a great summer, and are feeling confident,” Campbell said.