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‘No One Is Sure What to Expect’: Schools, Colleges Add More Counseling Services to Address Student Mental Health

As students begin returning to the classroom as the pandemic eases, schools are bracing for an onslaught of serious mental health conditions that, for some students, may take years to overcome.

In the year that campuses were closed due to Covid-19, students experienced waves of loneliness, fear, upheaval and grief. Some lost loved ones, others saw their parents lose their jobs and their families sink into poverty. Nearly all experienced a degree of depression from being apart from their friends and missing important milestones like proms, graduations and being on campus as college freshmen. Even students who thrived with distance learning endured periods of frustration and sadness.

But amid the gloom, some advocates foresee schools and colleges adopting permanent changes in the way they address students’ mental health needs, leading to long-term improvements in campus climate and students’ overall well-being.

Strategies for coping

Amy Cranston, executive director of the Social Emotional Learning Alliance for California, said there’s plenty schools can do to help students understand and process their emotions once they return to campus. But it won’t be easy.

Cranston and Danielle Matthew, a licensed marriage and family therapist who’s on the steering committee for the alliance, suggested teachers do daily “check-ins” with students where they can talk about their feelings and listen to their classmates, as a way to gain empathy and build communication skills after a year of limited social contact.

In addition, teachers should be trained to recognize signs of more serious mental health conditions, such as depression, and know when to refer students to counselors. Students should all know how to find the school counselors themselves, as well, they said.

Amid the attention to students’ well-being, teachers’ mental health should not be overlooked, said Dr. Soundhari Balaguru, a clinical psychologist in the Bay Area who consults with schools about social-emotional learning. Teachers have not only experienced their own personal hardships during the pandemic, but lately they’ve found themselves at odds with parents over school reopening plans.

Extra support on college campuses

Students and faculty at the college level have also been affected by anxiety, depression and stress related to the pandemic.

What began last year as a quick switch from in-person to online and telephone counseling has become a mainstay of college life, with officials expecting a continuation of some form of online mental health services. Some students like the privacy and ease of seeing a counselor online rather than in person.

College faculty and staff also face the stress of working from home while caring for their own children and family members.

‘It will take time’

Meanwhile, some K-12 districts are already taking steps to address student mental health needs. Some districts not only beefed up their counseling staffs, but also contracted with local nonprofits to provide extra services.

Other recent changes will also help students get mental health services. Students will no longer be required to be enrolled in special education to qualify for psychological therapy services, and managed care plans are now required to include family therapy benefits.

Excerpted from “‘No One Is Sure What to Expect’: Schools, Colleges Add More Counseling Services to Address Student Mental Health” in EdSource. Read the full article online.

Source: EdSource | ‘No One Is Sure What to Expect’: Schools, Colleges Add More Counseling Services to Address Student Mental Health”, https://edsource.org/2021/schools-add-more-counseling-services-but-students-mental-health-impacts-may-linger-for-years/651272 | copyright 2021 EdSource

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