The kids are still not alright.
I wrote “the kids are not alright” in April to explain how COVID-19 would impact college students. At the time, I wrote:
COVID-19 is different than any other type of traumatic event we’ve experienced because of its longevity… We’re ready to adjust, be resilient and return to normal, but the pandemic is still ramping up. Outside of that is the uncertainty of what ‘normal’ will look like when this ends.”
I predicted that “the emotional trauma that will result from COVID-19 will be on a greater scale than the physical.”
Look at where we are seven months later — not much has improved about how we’re addressing COVID and hundreds of thousands of people are dead.
The kids are still not alright, and the evidence is no longer based on my educated theory.
We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.“
As educators, we need to be aware of the magnitude of our students’ suffering because we cannot help them with what we don’t acknowledge or understand.
College students’ stress is at an all-time high
College students are totally stressed out. Gen Z adults (ages 18-24) aren’t just reporting increased stress levels, they also report higher stress levels than older adults, according to the APA’s study.
Our students are the most stressed members of the population.
College students’ mental health is declining
The world was different at this time last year. We prepared for family Thanksgiving celebrations. We mapped out our Black Friday shopping. We visited restaurants, bars, movies and concerts. We only wore masks on Halloween. We hadn’t heard of COVID-19.
When you think about all that’s changed, it’s not surprising that about 20% of adults reported to the APA that their mental health is worse than it was at this time last year. The worsening effect is greater for Gen Z adults.
As much as changes in the world have impacted us during the last year, they’ve impacted our students even more. And our students don’t have the same methods of coping that we do. The brain is not fully formed until a person is 25 years old. Until that age, people respond mostly with the emotional parts of the brain because the analytical parts are not developed. Our students’ strong feelings are real, and they don’t have the cognitive ability or life experience to cope with those feelings.
College students are depressed
Given what we’ve learned so far, it’s not so surprising that college students report symptoms of depression. Many of our students may suffer from depression during this time, even if they don’t have a history of the illness.
College students reported depression symptoms to the APA including feeling restless, tired, unmotivated and scattered. Imagine trying to combat these symptoms while focusing on academics.
COVID dampens students’ hope
Most of us have felt stress and even experienced symptoms of depression during the pandemic, but this last result really concerns me for our students. COVID is changing the way college students feel about their previously bright futures.
Almost 70% of Gen Z college students told the APA that the pandemic “makes planning for their future feel impossible.” The inability to plan is the stress of school and the uncertainty surrounding the academic year.
The uncertainty in the world makes college students feel stuck.
Gen Z adults reported feeling least hopeful about the future of any age group, according to the APA’s study. Only about 65% of college students said they feel optimistic about the future.
Let that sink in. Our students say they can’t plan for their futures because of the pandemic, and they don’t think things are going to get better.
Take care of your students
College students are hurting — emotionally and physically — during the pandemic. COVID is harming their development during a critical time in their lives — when they’re becoming young, freethinking, independent adults.
Educators must first recognize the impact of the pandemic on our students, then we must do what we can to help them, including:
- being flexible about assignments and class decorum,
- creating opportunities to engage with fellow students,
- encouraging students to socialize with their peers in safe, socially-distanced ways,
- helping students identify jobs and internships that are still available,
- discussing what their professional futures will look like and the positive ways businesses are innovating during the pandemic,
- talking to students about self care and how they’re coping,
- normalizing their feelings without trivializing them, and
- making them aware of mental health services on campus and encouraging them to use them.
These are not normal times, so we can’t act like it’s business as usual. Our students are suffering. Instilling hope in the future is so much more important than making sure their Zoom camera is on.