June 24, 2021

COVID-19’s Impact on Student Mental Health


Some might argue that before the pandemic, our country was in a mental health crisis. But all signs suggest that the effects of the pandemic have increased the mental health needs of children and adolescents. A recent study of over 10,000 high school students found that 56 percent of students reported that their stress about school has increased, and 32 percent reported that mental health was a major source of stress. Only 35 percent of students reported that they felt quite or very confident in their ability to cope with this level of stress (Challenge Success, 2021). Anecdotally, caregivers, parents, and educators have noticed an increase in mental health needs. Increased anxiety, feelings of isolation, and grief and loss are common threads. The 2020-2021 school year and school closures added additional peer difficulties, irregular sleep patterns, an increase in screen time, and a decrease in physical activity. School and health care closures have also disrupted some student access to health and mental health care.

While this early data can feel disheartening, it does suggest the important role that schools can play in helping students regain a sense of predictability in their lives and reconnect with peers, caring adults, and the school community. As schools open up and students return to the classroom, the focus on connection before content can help the healing process to begin. Intentionally building school community, strengthening student-to-student and student-to-educator relationships is critical to a successful return. One caring adult in the life of each student can serve as a powerful protective factor, buffering the stress of the current times and providing a roadmap for resilience.

  1. Challenge Success (February, 2021). Kids Under Pressure: A Look as Student Well-being and Engagement During the Pandemic. Available at https://challengesuccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/CS-NBC-Study-Kids-Under-Pressure-PUBLISHED.pdf
  2. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, ED COVID-19 Handbook, Volume 2: Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs Washington, DC, 2021. This report is available on the Department’s website at https://www2.ed.gov/documents/coronavirus/ reopening-2.pdf
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