As the new school year begins, some counselors are concerned about students’ mental health

School is back in class and many New York counties have moved on from most of their COVID protocols. However, the aftermath of distance learning is still affecting students, especially when it comes to their mental health. A rising trend of depression, suicide and anxiety has only worsened in the years since the pandemic began.

Eleventh grader Bella Wojcik crouches on the sidewalk in front of Vestalgymnasium with a piece of pink sidewalk chalk.

“We’re trying to draw a brain like dumbbells, like staying strong,” Wojcik said.

During the lunch break, Wojcik and other students write positive messages on the sidewalk in front of the school. It’s part of an activity that aims to destigmatize mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

Both have become increasingly common in the years since children have returned to school in person. So have incidents of fights and bullying between students.

Schools counselor Merryl Wallach said nearly two years later, schools and families are still experiencing the aftermath of distance learning.

“We had kids who were in the ninth grade and hadn’t gone to school for two years,” Wallach said. “So they didn’t develop the social skills they needed to interact with each other. It was like they were new at school.”

Samuel Armand, an 11th grade student, said that in the first two years of high school, it was difficult to socialize with other students. In his first year, classes were mostly held remotely.

He said since then he’s started to figure out who he is and where he fits in. But he said the achievement is not easy to achieve.

“I’m usually seen as pretty outgoing, you know, happy all the time,” Armand said. “But I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of suicidal thoughts.”

Armand said growing up with immigrants, it was sometimes difficult to be open about these thoughts. He said awareness events like this help. But he would like to see even more focus on mental health in schools.

“Despite everything the school tries to encourage, sometimes it doesn’t, it just doesn’t feel like it’s enough,” Armand said.

Many advocates of education shared this impression. School mental health experts say many students are lagging behind with their social and emotional skills and are urging more funding to help students catch up.

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