Students’ mental health affected by pandemic


Photo by Alli Cochrum

By Icza Huizar and Ida Soeholm Bertram

Returning to school in August 2021 after COVID quarantine has impacted students’ mental health even more than the lockdown itself, according to sources at West Chicago Community High School.

In spring of 2020, all students and staff were put on remote learning for what they thought was going to be a small break.Instead, schools shut down and opted for e-learning. The shutdown of schools – and most public places – caused everybody in the world to spend more time at home, which impacted students’ mental health, as it did other adults and staff members. Alli Cochrum, a WEGO social worker, believes students’ mental health was already poor, and students were going through mental health problems before the pandemic went into full effect. The aftermath of COVID, and a return to full-time school, worsened students’ mental health and brought out problems they did not even know they had.

“I think life always throws really hard stuff at us, and COVID added to that, but I also think COVID revealed a lot of other problems that kind of made it more obvious. And in some ways, it made us have to deal with things because I think students were struggling with their mental health before COVID, and now of course, we need to pay more attention to this” said Cochrum.

She spoke about the hidden aspects of mental health.

“When I was a student, I would go to school and think teachers have it all together. They’ve got these perfect lives, they have it all figured out, but they’re going through stuff just like students are, especially with COVID. They’re going through similar things, so I think it’s good for both sides to recognize we’ve all been through something really tough. We need to give everyone a little bit of extra grace.” 

Jeff Anderson

With mental health issues on the rise, students may be unaware of where they can turn for help. Cochrum encouraged students to reach out to anybody they trust for help, and to realize they are never alone; there are many people going through similar problems.

Cochrum said, “Make sure that someone knows that you need a little bit of extra support, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone is going through tough stuff. No one should be ashamed about asking for help, or trying to get more support, or asking questions. We all need that. No one should feel bad about that.”

Students at West Chicago Community High School reported that COVID  negatively impacted their mental health. Students claimed they were “fine” before the pandemic, when they could go out, be in school, and do normal activities, whereas during lockdown and the remote learning period, they primarily stayed inside all day with little to do, which led to poor mental health and additional anxiety that students are still dealing with now. Though they are back in school, students are less motivated, and struggling with work

Senior LaToya Wright said, “When COVID started, [my mental health] went really downhill. I was not going out, like doing nothing, and I wanted to kill myself, but now, I’m doing better. I’ve realized my friends were going through the same stuff and I was not alone.” 

“My mental health was not that great because I’m a social person, and not talking to people was not okay,” said senior Mariana Alfaro.

On January 1 of this year, a new law went into effect in Illinois that allows all students under the age of 18 five mental health days per school year. Nobody, other than those who work in the attendance office, know the reasons behind a student’s mental health day, but after two such absences, the student will be required to follow-up with a social worker or counselor for a well-being check. 

Nurse Cathy Collins-Clarke, who has been working at West Chicago High School for numerous years, said, “I have never seen so many mental health problems and anxiety from the students since COVID started.”

Research suggests that the number of mental health-related visits (to a therapist, psychologist, etc.) increased by 31% for students over the age of 12 in 2020, the year many schools moved to remote learning.

Some students are unable to seek support outside of school. Collins-Clarke explained that students may have to wait up to 3 months to see a therapist outside of school.

West Chicago Community High School strives to give the students who have need for support the opportunity to have conversations with a social worker or counselor, or take part in group therapy with other students who are going through similar mental health situations. 

The school also has three psychologists on staff. 

“It’s just nice to have space to come talk and let it out. I feel like, all the time, we keep everything in and then it gets bottled up, and it’s tough to manage that on our own, so just being able to talk to someone is important. Students are always welcome to come down and just vent, and let it out,” said Cochrum.