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COVID-19, Schools, And Mental Health: We All Need To Get Back

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.

COVID and Mental Health

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COVID-19: Mental health Continues To Take A Huge Hit

COVID-19 is a potentially deadly virus that has impacted millions, but the ripple effect that is hitting so many right now continues to be felt.

Right now, southern Ontario, Canada is in the midst of what some are calling a "mockdown," as it does not mean absolutely everything is closed in the same way as it was beginning in March 2020. We are also under a state of emergency and a stay at home order which was implemented January 14, 2021. Students at both the elementary and secondary levels have been learning from a range of digital platforms since after Christmas, and teachers have been doing their absolute best to ensure that their students are learning what they need to in order to continue on in school successfully.

However, we are also in a situation where the collective mental health of those involved in this current lockdown, including the students and staff, might be worsening. Sure, there are those students who are, due to choices their families have made because of someone being immunocompromised in their family and so forth, learning from home, but that was a choice. Those students who were continuing to go to school was a direct result of either necessity because the children were young enough that they couldn't stay home on their own (and needed to continue to attend a physical classroom so their parents could keep working) or because their families determined that keeping them in a classroom was the best course of action.

Now, there continues to be students learning from home who may not want to and staff with varying degrees of technological knowhow and without the training that Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce claims teachers had prior to the school year teaching from home. This is continuing to ramp up stress levels for students, staff and parents.

According to the Simcoe County branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, which posted the press release entitled, "Ontario's mental health and addiction leaders respond to government's new investment," which addressed the $3.8 billion investment the Ontario government invested in mental health back in October 2020, "more than one million people in Ontario experienced mental health and addiction challenges every year. Ontarians were already facing wait times of up to 2.5 years to access mental health and addiction services, often turning to emergency rooms in crisis."

According to the CAMH Mental Health Policy Advice titled "Mental Health in Canada: Covid-19 and Beyond", "A recent poll found that 50% of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the pandemic began with many feeling worried (44%) and anxious (41%). One in 10 Canadians polled said that their mental health had worsened ‘a lot’ as a result of COVID-19."

For some students, school is the one safe space they can count on. It's one of the few places where they might have the mental health support they need in fairly short order, given schools have counselors and social workers for students to access as needed. Consider that some Ontarians have already waited upwards of 2.5 years to access mental health or addictions services in pre-COVID times; if a student needs mental health support, and can't access them from home for various reasons, a school is the next best place to access support.

There's also the camaraderie that comes with being in a classroom. Even masked, students and staff have the sense that they have been in this COVID craziness together simply by being in a common space. It's not easy to attend school while masked, but there's certainly a greater sense of connection when you're all in the same run.

I do understand that we are in a situation where we need to minimize contact with each other in order to ease pressure on hospitals, and we need to be mindful that's why we've been under a stay-at-home order. Our health care system is under terrible duress as a result of the virus, but it may well be under greater strain as we deal with the incredible strain this virus has put on our mental health.

We need to get students and staff back to their classrooms sooner, rather than later. I realize that might not be a conventionally smart thing to say, given the health care crisis currently facing us, but concerns over our collective mental health might have to start gaining greater weight if we are to successfully get through this.