The air is frigid; snow is caked onto the sidewalk; the sun still retreats below the horizon before 5:00 PM. Winter is in full swing, and, for many, this seasonal change brings about a significant decrease in mental wellbeing. Combined with the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in widespread isolation, unemployment, and illness, this winter has taken a particularly large toll on the nation’s mental health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four in ten adults have experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression by the end of 2020, and adolescent emergency department visits related to mental health are at an all-time high.
The COVID-19 pandemic has left mental health impacts on employees, teachers, and students across the globe, and the Concord Academy community is no exception. Still reeling from the emergency campus closure during the spring semester, many students are struggling with a loss of normalcy and being away from friends, counselors, and other support networks. A senior who wished to remain anonymous reflected on this loss of support: “Although part of this is on me for not asking for more therapy or getting a lesser schedule, the ways in which I get care from other people have also been drastically reduced, so it’s difficult to get help.” According to a report by the American Psychological Association, many of the indicators teachers use to identify students experiencing mental health challenges are no longer available.
After a semester characterized by social isolation and draining virtual classes, returning to campus for hybrid learning this past January has been instrumental in improving mental wellbeing for many CA students. Emmanuel Andrews ’21, a boarding student from New York, shared, “My mental health sucked earlier in the year, and I felt trapped at home during the pandemic.” Once he returned to campus and reacclimated to boarding life, however, Emmanuel’s feelings of suffocation had partially subsided: “The atmosphere is completely different now that I’m at school again. I like seeing lots of different people again, even though it’s not everyone.”
While many students felt relief initially upon returning to CA, the on-campus experience still remains a far cry from normalcy due to restrictions on social interactions. In order to enforce distancing protocols in classrooms during the hybrid school schedule, in-person students have been divided into two separate cohorts. While Loki Fondeur ’21 was happy to return to campus this past January and reunite with friends and teachers, they shared, “[CA] doesn’t feel the same at 50% capacity. It feels like I’m also at 50% capacity.” Restrictions on students’ social interactions and shared physical spaces, along with the ability to freely interact without a nagging anxiety about exposure to COVID-19, can affect students in unique ways.