Anxiety, Stress Remain Top Concerns for California Students, Survey Finds

Schools might be reopened, but the mental health impact of the pandemic has lingered for thousands of California students. More than half of those surveyed during the pandemic said they lack motivation, often feel depressed and have not received counseling services, according to a recent study.

The report, compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, included responses from more than 1,200 students in middle and high school from throughout the state, from Shasta County in the north to San Diego in the south. It underscored the need for more counselors and mental health services on school campuses and more compassion for young people who are struggling with persistent stress and anxiety.

“For students, the greatest impact from the pandemic has been on their mental health, not physical health,” said Amir Whitaker, senior policy attorney for the ACLU and an author of the report. “We can’t expect things to return to ‘normal’ when students still have these mental and emotional scars. … It’s trauma, and these traumatized children need to be healed.”

The survey was conducted in two phases, in 2020 and 2021, allowing researchers to measure students’ views of their mental health and wellness as the pandemic wore on. Of note was a section where surveyors asked students to describe their feelings. In 2020 the most common answers were “bored,” “stressed” and “overwhelmed.” In the 2021 survey, “stressed” and “tired” had replaced “bored” for the top spot, and some words, such as “uncertain,” “confused” and “frustrated,” had dropped off the list entirely.

In the 2021 survey, researchers found:

  • 63% of students said they’d had an emotional meltdown in the past year.
  • 43% reported a panic or anxiety attack.
  • 22% said they’d missed three or more days of school due to mental health.
  • 19% reported suicidal thoughts.

At the same time that students’ mental health needs were escalating, counseling services were scarce in many school districts and communities. More than 80% of students said they did not have increased access to mental health services at school or elsewhere during the pandemic, despite the state’s push for increased youth counseling services at schools, community clinics and other settings.

Before the pandemic, California had one of the highest student-to-counselor ratios in the country, with an average of one counselor for every 682 students, far above the 1-to-250 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. But in the past two years, California has encouraged districts to use their Covid relief funds to hire more counselors, train teachers to recognize serious mental health issues among students, create wellness centers on campus and boost social-emotional learning in classrooms. In December, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced a plan to add 10,000 more counselors to California schools by providing scholarships and streamlining the process to become a licensed school counselor.

The ACLU survey found that students wanted more counseling services, but more important was tutoring, college counseling and individual academic support. Relieving academic stress was a major component of their overall mental health, they said. Students also found relief in hobbies, listening to music, sports, art and time with friends.

The report recommends a slew of actions at the state, county and district levels, including more investment in mental health services, screenings for trauma and recruitment of Black and Latino school counselors. It also suggests that schools allow students to use sick days for mental health purposes.

Excerpted from “Anxiety, Stress Remain Top Concerns for California Students, Survey Finds” in EdSource. Read the full article online.

Source: EdSource | Anxiety, Stress Remain Top Concerns for California Students, Survey Finds, | copyright 2022 EdSource

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