It's not news that there was already a mental health crisis among adolescents prior to COVID and that teens and young adults have experienced increasing levels of anxiety and depression over the past 18 months. But we wanted to understand how the return to school this year may be impacting student wellbeing. To dig into this, we partnered with Fiveable to survey 681 high school students.
What we found is that while for many students the return to in-person learning has brought much desired social interactions and a sense of normalcy, it has also meant an increase in overall stress and demands -- managing time in school, extracurricular and social activities, and increased homework and academic expectations.
In fact, one month into the school year, high school students are reporting heightened levels of anxiety and depression. And, interestingly, these elevated levels of anxiety and depression are consistent whether students are attending school in person, remote or hybrid and whether vaccinated or not.
These results suggest that rates of anxiety and depression among teens may be rising. By contrast, 2020 data showed that just under 40% of high school and college students reported clinically significant anxiety, and 2019 data showed that 37% of high school age youth reported clinically significant depression. As this NPR story highlights, "the stakes are high for teens this fall. Anxiety, depression, and substance use among teens increased 30% during the pandemic."
This survey data is also consistent with what our clinical team at Joon Care is observing. Referrals to outpatient therapy for anxiety and depression have increased since mid-August when teens started returning to in-person school.
Dr. Amy Mezulis, Joon Care Co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer noted that, "Combined with the continued uncertainty and stress associated with the pandemic, including significant health anxiety and the politicization of decisions such as vaccination or masking, this year's start to school has led to significant stress, social anxiety, low motivation, fatigue, and depression."
And in a recent conversation with our Student Advisory Board, Izzy G. shared, “Going into this school year, I was super excited to be back in person. However, after the first few weeks of school, I felt super overwhelmed and stressed by figuring out how to balance my workload along with extracurriculars, and college applications. The transition from summer to school this year felt particularly difficult and mentally taxing since I haven't done full-time in-person school for 18 months.”
“Even though it's been really exciting and fun to be back at school, my social anxiety has been sky-high after having so little social interaction over online learning and the pandemic. All of this social contact has been stressful and tiring, and I'm constantly second guessing myself,” added high school senior, Elsie B.
“Today’s teenagers are carrying a lot of weight on their shoulders; stress about debt, college, and larger global issues that have been inflamed by the uncertainty and loss surrounding the pandemic,” said Amanda DoAmaral, Co-founder and CEO of Fiveable. “If you consider yourself to be an education activist who supports the holistic and evolving needs of today’s students, you can’t just turn a blind eye to what the data shows and to what the students are saying. They need us -- and we owe it to them to help.”
We agree with Amanda! It is more important than ever for companies who work with middle school, high school and college students to proactively take steps to support the mental health of the students they serve. The time is now. Ask your students / customers / users about their mental health. Recognize and consider the wellbeing of students in company decisions. And provide access to mental health information and resources. Our team is here to help. We'd love to hear from you.