Changes in mood, behavior, diet, and concentration, lack of interest in usual activities, sleeping difficulties, lack of personal hygiene, and increases in risky behaviors (i.e. drugs and alcohol): These are all symptoms of poor mental health, especially during a pandemic.
EC Student Assistant Counselors Paige Visser and Sara Heerema discuss everything adolescents need to know about the state of mental health in Eastern Christian.
In a normal year, there are other factors that contribute toward poor mental health. Mrs. Heerema, the counselor for the elementary through middle schools, blames affected mental health on a variety of reasons including social media, electronics, academic pressure, overly processed foods, busy lives, racial and political unrest, and lack of morality in the world.
This year, there is one more factor to blame for potentially damaged mental health. “We’re living with more uncertainty than we have in a long time,” says Mrs. Visser. “Now that we’re back, it’s not as bad, but uncertainty is still there... Things are different. It’s a lot of change to adjust to.”
Many students sought help during the spring because isolation was affecting them negatively. Mrs. Visser explained, “Some kids really liked it and felt better being home, but there were some kids who had a hard time staying motivated and having energy.”
Both counselors, however, have commented on the “honeymoon phase” during the new school year. The honeymoon phenomenon relates to the excitement that comes with a new school year, and seeing friends and teachers after not having interacted with them in six months. It is a time when “students are getting adjusted and seeing where they fit in,” as Mrs. Heerema stated. As a result, students are enjoying a new beginning and many have yet to visit the student counselors’ offices. “As students become accustomed to their new classrooms and surroundings,” Mrs. Heerema explains, “and the honeymoon period begins to wear off, we may begin to see more residual effects of all the stress we have been under over the past several months.”
The ECS Student Assistant Counselors have compiled suggestions to maintain or improve mental health throughout this pandemic:
Limit exposure to the news. It is good to keep up with world events, but it is not important to focus on what we cannot do to help the world. Rather, focus on what the individual can control. Ask, “What steps are you able to take?” and “What are you able to do?”
Maintain a schedule and a consistent sleep pattern, as well as healthy eating. Mrs. Heerema says, “Please take care of your physical needs. We often underestimate how interconnected our bodies, minds, and spirits are.”
Prioritize healthy relationships. With so much going on in our world, students don’t need extra non-supportive people in their lives, says Mrs. Visser.
Mrs. Heerema offers a more uncommon suggestion: “Practice deep-breathing skills, mindful movement, and grounding techniques when you are calm and feeling good, so that you will be more likely to utilize them when you are feeling anxious or out of control.”
Most importantly, pay attention and work on spiritual relationships. Students can relate to God in many different ways: daily devotions, Christian music, memorizing Scripture, prayer, and walking through nature.
Overall, Mrs. Visser and Mrs. Heerema have hope for the future. They foresee a rise in strength and resilience in Generation-Z after going through such struggles. Time and commitment will be necessary, but Mrs. Heerema believes that “our students today are going to grow up and ‘be the change they want to see in this world.’”