ST. LOUIS – Even after two years, society is still feeling the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many national studies show that the pandemic has affected the mental health of children and students.
The quarantine period, in the early stages of the pandemic, stopped many children from being able to socialize with kids their own age. Researchers say any sort of isolation can be psychologically distressing and unpleasant.
On March 13, 2020, the presidential administration declared a nationwide emergency. Two days later, U.S. states started implementing shutdowns. Everyone went into isolation; it was called quarantine. This lockdown caused everyone to stress out, and in some cases it was unpleasant.
Preliminary studies show that children and adolescents are affected by social distancing. The lack of supportive structure during the pandemic is a strain on mental health.
“We have not had a downtime since COVID started,” said Tina Meier, founder and director of the St. Charles-based Megan Meier Foundation.
Megan Meier said there is more demand for the services that the foundation offers.
“The kids who had situations that were going on at home. Whether food insecurity, physical, sexual trauma, or abuse, whatever it may be, they did not get the supports they needed,” said Meier. “And then there is the isolation of not being around kids.”
Meier said that kids see when their families struggle. They hear about how there’s sickness and that can cause emotions like being scared. Society completely flipped and all these changes can lead to anxiety.
During this time, kids were still supposed to go to school. They were either in a hybrid situation or completely online school.
Then there were mask regulations and the concern about who is masked and who was not.
“There’s so much going on and kids feel all that,” Meier said. “Then they get brought back into this school year when it is a full [classroom] and they’re not emotionally regulated.”
They might have been not as active, and lack of physical activity plays a part in a child’s development.
Students experienced boredom, lack of sleep, lack of structured school and changes in eating habits in the early stages of the pandemic. These factors have impaired the self-image of children and adolescents.
COVID-19 has rendered these young adults unable to engage in typical age-appropriate activities. They also might have experience loss or death of a family member due to the pandemic.
Meier said that the students she sees now are getting younger. Before COVID-19, they were adolescents and teens. The students she sees are not at the level where they should be for their age group. They are behind in maturity, socialization, and emotionally.
“Now because of the onslaught of so much need, there is all this waiting now,” Meier said.
“Especially kids who are LGBTQ youth. Before, they would have been able to go into environments that were supportive,” said Meier. “They were at home and if their home life was not supportive they can’t go to school, and they cannot go to support groups.”
LGBTQ and trans and nonbinary youth are more likely than cis youth to exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, or both. LGBTQ youth are about three times more likely to say they are not able to be themselves at home more than cis youth.
“It can be hard, and we have seen that it is getting younger,” said Mieir. “Our foundation is seeing a huge change, and it used to be primarily middle school, but we are seeing a lot in elementary school now.”
Trans and nonbinary youth are three times more likely to report feeling unsafe in their current living situation than cis youth. They are also almost five times more likely to report having difficulty getting mental health care than cisgender youth.
Mieir thinks it is going to be tough for a while until the school can get more support systems in place.
“We’re already seeing it,” said Meier. “It’s why we’ve had such a high rise in calls and requests for in person presentations.”
Meier said that no one wants to do virtual anymore. “Kids are not socially at the age they should be. They were following behind educationally, and they are in classrooms with all these kids,” said Meier.
Meier said that because the students are not emotionally regulated, they can’t deal with conflicts.
“They do not deal with a teacher in a certain tone or a certain way. They cannot deal with sometimes hearing noises to the side that they were not used to hearing before. It is all different again for them, and so they are just struggling trying to keep a grip on what is going on.”
This is a replica of a graph. To check out the actual one, click here.
Starting in May 2020 there has been an upward climb of mass shootings in America compared to years prior. As an example, 88 shootings occurred in July 2020, 42 shootings occurred in July 2019, and 45 shootings occurred in July 2018.
The National Center for Education Statistics says that over the past 20 years, the number of school shootings has ranged from 11 to 93.
In the 2020–2021, there were 93 school shootings alone.
“It’s why we try to provide the support in the schools, and our counseling is all free,” said Meier. “We just want to make sure that there are not any barriers and delays in service. It is a lot less staff time, and we can still get those services out to the kids in a much more efficient way.”