By Baila Salifou, Youth Advisory Council member
Baila is a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She is focused on tackling mental health stigmas and healthcare discrepancies associated with youth in America, as well as youth across the globe.
The following reflects Baila’s lived experiences, thoughts, and opinions.
COVID-19 has brought an array of social issues and discrepancies, one of which directly impacts youth. The transition to online school for most U.S. students has been a very difficult one. Many students, like myself, have found emotional and mental struggles with this transition that have directly impacted academic success. It is important, now more than ever, to prioritize the well-being and mental health of youth.
The interpersonal connections at school were what made academics more manageable. Having that community of friends and groups of similar interests, created this collective ‘we’re in this together’ feeling. Now, it’s so much harder to connect with others and rely on those connections.
Many students, like myself, have found emotional and mental struggles with this transition that have directly impacted academic success.
My first year of college was at home, something that most college students dread (because the whole point of college is to get away and be independent). Most of my friends were able to attend their college campuses (with restrictions of course) and I couldn’t help but feel like I was missing out on an experience. There are thousands of students just like me who were robbed of the college experience, had to adapt to “Zoom university”, and fell victim to the repercussions of social isolation. Although this experience was not favorable, there were many ways that I took advantage of this time to optimize my passions and goals. Finding different ways to still have fun, explore my interests, and take care of myself really made a difference.
One of the major assets to making this difference was the leniency of my professors and the workshops offered by my school. My school presented the effort to reach out to students struggling and providing a space to fit our needs. From mental health workshops, healthy habits presentations, and even online challenges. All of these make the best of the online environment and reinstate that sense of community.
It is important for educational intuitions to create spaces that anchor youth despite these extraneous times. Many adolescents don’t know how to change their mindset, where to go to find resources, or how to find positivity in these circumstances. Students who have an overall positive wellbeing contribute better to the academic scene. This is why the prioritization should be getting students to this overall positive sense of wellbeing rather than academic success. Despite mental health being a public health issue, it also has direct correlations to the productivity of students.
Many adolescents don’t know how to change their mindset, where to go to find resources, or how to find positivity in these circumstances.
Here are some practices that can benefit your students as an educator:
- Extend your helping hand. Students will not come to you for help unless they feel comfortable to do so. They need to trust you enough, like you enough, and feel safe enough to reach out. Simply expressing that you are here to help does so much down the line.
- Offer virtual events students can attend. Some students won’t reach out personally because of fear and judgment. Nobody knows what is happening at home, and for many students’ school was an escape from family issues. Virtual events let students know they have people who care and access to resources that can help.
- Be lenient and understanding. These times are not ideal for anyone – I’d imagine educators are stressed as well. Everyone is stressed, anxious, and struggling to some degree in this setting. So, let’s help understand one another and connect.
Bill Gates said, “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting kids to work together and motivate them, the teacher is the most important.”
Emotionally healthy students contribute more to class, get assignments in, and create an overall positive academic scene.
The support of teachers, educators, and counselors help immensely when it comes to mental health for youth. Aside from personal issues, the added stress of online learning negatively impacts youth. This makes it imperative that supporting youth becomes the forefront of these times. Emotionally healthy students contribute more to class, get assignments in, and create an overall positive academic scene. This pandemic has highlighted the importance of adolescent mental health in a functioning society. These times have been hard for all of us, and as collective we should work to combat these challenges to secure a better future.