Fear and stress resulting from the outbreak of coronavirus can be overwhelming for both adults and children. Regardless of current proximity to an outbreak, students may be overcome with many questions, fears, and anxieties, leaving teachers and parents to figure out how to support them while also managing their own emotions.
In addition to widespread uncertainty, the impact of a looming or recent school closure extends well beyond academics as students are faced with disruption from familiar routines and unexpectedly disengaging from a community of social support.
District leaders and heads of schools must be attentive to the effects of coronavirus on the mental health and well-being of students, teachers, and staff members. Education leaders can play a pivotal role in proactively providing resources to support the well-being of the school community, both virtually and in person.
Provide clear direction on how to talk with students about coronavirus
Although stressful, educators can have a simple and honest conversation with kids and adolescents about coronavirus, and proactively talk about how to keep fears realistic and manageable.
The resources below can help educators (and parents) talk with students about coronavirus in an age appropriate manner, review positive preventive practices that provide students with some sense of control, and reinforce media literacy skills as students are bombarded with information.
- Read this resource for guidelines on talking about coronavirus with youth, created by the National Association of School Psychologists
- Use this comic to help explain coronavirus to kids, created by NPR and university mental health and social work experts
- Read this article for tips on talking about coronavirus with youth and on reinforcing media literacy with older adolescents
Emphasize the importance of self-care and healthy coping strategies for both adults and students
Regardless of age, experts recommend maintaining consistent routines, practicing healthy habits, taking regular breaks from news and media, and finding ways to remain connected to social networks and support.
Use the following resources and strategies to help teachers and students cope through this stressful period by incorporating them in classes, and widely distributing them on the district website, on social medial, and over e-mail:
- Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Care for Your Coronavirus Anxiety, published by Shine
- Coping with Coronavirus Anxiety, published by Harvard Medical School
- 7 Science-Based Strategies to Cope with Coronavirus Anxiety, published by a cognitive behavioral psychologist at Georgetown University
When self-care is not enough
Even with these strategies in mind, some adults, adolescents, and children may still have trouble coping with the effects of coronavirus. While elevated levels of stress and anxiety are currently widespread, the following groups are at increased risk for exacerbated symptoms:
- People who have preexisting mental health conditions
- Groups who may be experiencing stigma (e.g., persons of Asian descent, those who have recently traveled)
- School health professionals who are helping with the response
- Those with a loved one living in or helping with the response in an area where many people are sick
See the second part of this series for additional guidance on how districts can provide or facilitate counseling and mental health services amid school closures, and how you can leverage telemental health services to enhance capacity.
Additional resources on this topic
Technological solutions for improving access to mental health support during the COVID-19 outbreak and beyond
As the outbreak of COVID-19 has led to an increasing number of school closures, higher ed leaders must determine how to adjust their counseling services to best support the safety and wellbeing of their school community. Read this insight for two trends from institutions implementing technology-enabled mental health support.
With rapidly evolving recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19, heads of boarding schools are quickly making decisions going beyond those of the traditional K-12 institution. Read the expert insight for five action steps to keep in mind as boarding schools across the globe modify infrastructure and policies to help reduce the risk of infection.