Supporting students’ mental health in the wake of COVID-19

Justin Reilly, CEO of Impero Software, discusses how tech can support students’ mental health in a post-COVID world

The stress and anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on students’ mental health and wellbeing. And with most school systems talking about moving to a hybrid learning model, this isolation will most likely continue throughout the 2020/21 school year.

According to Mental health in America’s schools: A guide to support students, a white paper co-authored by UK-based Impero Software and its partner Mental Health America, nearly half of 11- to 17-year-olds in the United States are stressed out and more than two million have major depression issues.

The stress and anxiety of the pandemic can exacerbate existing mental health problems. Mental Health America noted an increase in screenings for clinical anxiety among all age groups during just the first two months, making it even more crucial that we are vigilant about monitoring for potential concerns among our students and taking swift action when they need it.

Empowering teachers

As schools resume, teachers and school staff must be positioned to identify potential signals that a student may need help, whether or not that student is physically in their classroom.

They have a tall task ahead of them.

This is where technology can help. Monitoring software, such as that offered by Impero Software, helps school staff detect potential concerns early so they can intervene if needed. Impero partnered with Mental Health America to create a keyword library specific to mental health concerns. When a student who is using the school network types a concerning word found in the keyword library – whether it’s in an application, on social media, or on the internet – the system will send an alert to the designated school administrator, which can potentially save lives.

“The next few months will be crucial for getting students back into the right mindset to learn, and everyone plays an important role – including school staff”

Young people are very active on social media, so signs of mental health concerns may be noticed first in the students’ online behaviour. The white paper describes research from the University of Vermont which found computers can diagnose depression based on clues in someone’s Instagram photos more reliably than a doctor can in a face-to-face appointment.

Stress management tips

The white paper also lists some strategies that can help students manage stress:

● Remind them to be kind to themselves. It sounds simple, but just letting students know that no one is perfect can help.
● Don’t forget the basics. Encourage students to eat healthily while avoiding excessive caffeine and sugar.
● Let them know it’s OK to ‘let it out’. Laughing or crying can help a student release emotions. Give them permission to do either if they need it.
● Help them relax. Students need a break from stress, so encourage them to listen to music, take a break or play a game.
● Remind them that it’s OK to ask for help. No one should suffer by themselves, especially when help is available. Knowing when to ask for help is a strength, not a weakness. Let students know you’re available to talk with them or that a school counsellor or mental health professional can help if needed.

The next few months will be crucial for getting students back into the right mindset to learn, and everyone plays an important role – including school staff. This requires being proactive by watching for warning signs, using technology to provide an extra safety net, and taking quick action when needed. Children and teenagers are resilient and will rise to the challenge of living in a post-COVID world. Together we can provide the support needed to help them succeed.

You might also like: Digital mental health therapy programme launched to alleviate GCSE stress


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