IN THE TIME OF COVID:
Student Mental Health
Mental health is an important issue that affects students every day. Having access to mental health services can reduce the stress caused by difficult situations and improve academic performance. Post-pandemic it is more important than ever to support the mental and physical well-being of students.
How has COVID-19 affected mental health for students?
Even pre-pandemic, schools were taking an increased interest in student mental health, because they understood that the indicators of student success are complex and interwoven. Of course, academic achievement is a high indicator, but reasoning, interest, and persistence also account for a large percentage of school success, with non-cognitive factors exerting at least as much of an effect on achievement as cognitive ones. COVID-19 has caused sustained stress and trauma unlike anything that we have seen for generations, and Texas students will need extra supports.
Amid increased internet use during the first few months of COVID, there has been a 70% increase in hate speech for children and teens over that time. This is exacerbated by the increased stress, isolation, and boredom accompanying the pandemic. Cyberbullying is usually far more visible than traditional bullying because other users can see it in real-time. This can have a devastating effect on the child, yet cyberbullied children are much slower to speak out. Half of all teens have experienced cyberbullying, but only one in ten reports it. On top of that, Zoom has permitted some real-time cyberbullying to be more visible because of the front row seat it provides into children’s lives.
Know Your Rights
The best way for a parent/student to ensure fair and equitable treatment is to know your rights.
What should parents do if their child is experiencing cyberbullying?
State law requires every school district to implement a policy that prevents bullying and to include methods for the district to intervene in and investigate cases of bullying. Many schools provide platforms where students and parents can anonymously file a report. Schools usually have a formal process of responding to those allegations. Parents should encourage active conversations with children and notify the principal in writing if their child is being bullied.
What are school counselors' duties?
With the passage of SB 179 (87R), school districts must adopt a policy where counselors are required to spend at least 80% of their time on work specific to their counseling program, including, for example, students’ personal development and mental health. Time spent by counselors administering tests or performing related work does not qualify as work that is specific to the counseling program.
What other resources are available for students?
SB 279 (87R) required that students in the sixth grade or higher are provided with the contact information of both the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line. Additionally, many schools have launched their own mental health hotline with which students, parents, and educators could support students in need of assistance.
How could schools better serve students?
No policy is ever perfect. Despite its challenges, the pandemic forced schools to innovate. Coming out of this pandemic, schools and school districts have the opportunity to improve student mental health policies and practices. To better support students and families through mental health challenges, CHILDREN AT RISK provides the following recommendations:
» Schools must develop policies and protocols around cyber safety and cyberbullying. With children ever increasingly online, prevention and rapid responses are critical.
» Schools should consider providing spaces and times for children to decompress and communicate their mental health needs.
» By implementing social-emotional learning, schools can potentially improve student productivity and reduce behavioral issues.