I am a mental health professional who has worked with adolescents and young adults for more than 15 years. Though I am not a public health specialist, pediatrician, or an expert who can comment on school reopenings, from where I sit today, I am gravely concerned about the mental health impact of the erratic school closures on our already emotionally and mentally vulnerable youth population. When our public officials roll out and then roll back school reopening plans in the span of days or weeks, the mental health whiplash is tremendous. And we are seeing the effects in real time.
GENERAL MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS OF BACK-TO-SCHOOL
Across the country we are in the midst of an unprecedented mental health crisis, with young people in the eye of the storm. Research shows that adolescents are already more vulnerable to high levels of stress, sadness, irritability, anger, confusion, and uncertainty, and, according to the American Psychological Association, this generation is more likely than other generations to report poor mental health. Developmentally, adolescents and young adults are still making gains emotionally, hormonally, cognitively, physically, and socially, which makes them more susceptible to mental health problems, most notably depression and anxiety.
Even in the best of times navigating a return to school following summer vacation was a challenge for this age group—requiring huge mental and emotional fortitude, as well as preparation. Social acceptance, body image, grades, parental pressure, peer pressure, and romantic relationships can all weigh heavily on the mind of a young person returning to school.