This past year has been hard on most people in the world. It really is striking to think about that. There is likely not a person alive who has not been impacted in some way by COVID-19. There have been other events in history such as WWI, WWII, the Spanish Flu and The Black Death which have impacted a large part of the world. The negative impacts of the current pandemic may range from health problems and financial difficulties to disruption and isolation. The silent but potentially deadly consequence of COVID-19 is the damage to our mental health.
Living in limbo is not easy on anyone. I was living my life in Kyiv, Ukraine when the pandemic hit, and my family and I were given a choice to stay put, or to evacuate back to Canada. We chose to stay. The numbers in Ukraine initially were much lower than in Canada, and it seemed safer than flying and spending time in airports. In the end the decision was taken out of our hands and we had to fly back to Canada. The medical system in Ukraine was deemed to be substandard in comparison with Canada, and for our protection, we were asked to fly home. We booked ourselves into a cottage in the woods in Havelock-Belmont-Methuen, Ontario for two months. We figured we wouldn’t be there the whole two months, but we wanted to ensure we had a place to stay. Every week we would have a Zoom call with our Ambassador and wait anxiously for any news. No news ever came. We would hear rumours from other colleagues that next week we would hear something and then the next.
We finally had to book another month, this time in Toronto. We again thought we would leave before the end of the month, but that date came and went, all the while still having weekly Embassy calls in the hopes we would get some news. All toll we were in Canada for 4 months. For anyone who lives in Toronto or was keeping up with COVID-19 updates in Canada, it was one of the last places to open up businesses and restaurants. Our daily lives were not easy. My son was continuing with his remote schooling, but his timing was off and he had to switch to asynchronous learning, when he had been used to live Zoom sessions throughout the day. As a result, he did not get to see his friends. My husband had to keep working, but again, most of his meetings were with people in Ukraine, so trying to collaborate with others was difficult due to the time change. I was able to conduct my lessons online, but our internet was satellite based at the cottage in the woods and that proved a challenge to maintain a good connection.
We were safe, we had food and we were together. Overall we were quite lucky, but still I struggled with my mental health. I am a planner, and it was killing me not to know when or if I would ever go back to Kyiv. The way I kept myself sane was to remember that we were lucky, and that there were people much worse off than we were. My son also handled the situation so well, that he inspired me to try to live in the moment and focus on the positive things that were happening.
“The fear of the unknown is possibly the most fundamental fear of human beings. From an evolutionary perspective, humans have been able to survive because we’re able to plan. We’re socialized from childhood to believe that “there’s a predictable universe” and order in which things should happen” (Antshel).
How are our students handling life and schooling during the pandemic? Overall, mental health services are lacking in most regions of Canada. Needing access to services during COVID-19 is proving especially difficult, due to social distancing requirements. While Zoom sessions may be an option for some, others are finding themselves on a waiting list. Many students who are struggling are suffering in silence and not letting others know their pain.
“The Covid-19 pandemic may worsen existing mental health problems and lead to more cases among children and adolescents because of the unique combination of the public health crisis, social isolation, and economic recession” (Golberstein, Wen, Miller).
For students who are attending school online, they may miss out on mental health services that are provided at school. “A major concern the researchers point to: Since most mental health disorders begin in childhood, it is essential that any mental health issues be identified early and treated. Left untreated, they can lead to serious health and emotional problems. In the short term, video conferencing may be an effective way to deliver mental health services to children” (Golberstein, et.al).
Mental health and academic achievement are linked, research shows. Chronic stress changes the chemical and physical structure of the brain, impairing cognitive skills like attention, concentration, memory, and creativity. “You see deficits in your ability to regulate emotions in adaptive ways as a result of stress,” said Cara Wellman, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University. In her research, Wellman discovered that chronic stress causes the connections between brain cells to shrink in mice, leading to cognitive deficiencies in the prefrontal cortex.
Not all students are dealing with pandemic in the same way. For some, their lives continue mostly as it was. For others, their lives have been turned upside down and they have had to isolate at a time when they need people the most. COVID-19 will have lasting repercussions for children, and it is important for them to get timely access to mental health services. Intervening early can help lessen the negative impacts on learning and help students find techniques to help them cope with school and life in an uncertain time.
Golberstein E, Wen H, Miller BF. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and Mental Health for Children and Adolescents. JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(9):819–820. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.1456
Terada, Youki, 2020. COVID-19’s Impact on Students’ Academic and Mental Well-Being. Edutopia. Retrieved from:http://www.edutopia.org/article/covid-19s-impact-students-academic-and-mental-well-being.
Stieg, Cory, 2020. The Psychological Toll of Uncertainty and Not Knowing What’s Coming Next. Make It. Retrieved from:https://www.cnbc.com/2020/05/17/coronavirus-psychology-of-uncertainty-not-knowing-whats-next.html?__source=sharebar|email&par=sharebar