PMS counselors, clinicians deal with toll on student mental health during pandemic


The nature of counseling has changed during the Covid-19 pandemic as counselors deal with individual isolation rather than in-person conflict, according to Scott Brown, a counselor at Pelham Middle School.

“Covid has changed the way our country lives and operates, and the drastic change has created considerable fear, anxiety and stress,” said Brown. “Not knowing what is going to happen from day to day takes a toll on our mental health. That goes for parents, teachers and students alike.”

In a Harvard University study, about two-thirds of children ages seven to 15 were found to have clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety—and the same number had problems such as inattention and hyperactivity—between November 2020 and January 2021, according to an April 10 article in the Wall Street Journal. The data represents large increases from the 30% of kids with anxiety and depression symptoms and 20% with behavioral problems before the pandemic, the article said. The Harvard study has been tracking 224 children.

The Pelham schools are working to meet the needs of students during the pandemic through the ongoing efforts of counselors and clinicians like psychologists and social workers.

“Many sixth graders feel they have not been able to establish new friendships, and seventh graders feel it is hard to grow the new friendships they had started last year before school closed down,” said social worker Sharon Charles. “The pandemic has been easier on kids who have a very well established group or one or two close friends. It is especially hard on kids that are new to Pelham, as you could imagine.”

The overall well-being of students during the pandemic varies, said Charles. Some students feel less pressure because they have more time and less activities—they are even feeling relieved. Some students with social anxieties are more comfortable at home.

However, many students are lonely and found virtual school extremely difficult when it comes to focusing, she said.

“I will say that many kids have risen to the occasion and found more time to read, enjoy family, become more independent and self-motivated,” said Charles. “Other kids struggle and feel like they have lost a year.”

“Everyone is willing to help out, and the key is to join a committee and get involved in the effort of keeping us all connected and together,” said Brown.

According to Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ, clinicians working with school administrators will especially focus on transition support as many students move back into full-time in-person school. They will also maintain vigilant attention on those students who remain fully virtual, especially as the numbers of students at home decrease.

At all schools, these clinicians have been working tirelessly to make sure that students are supported during this most difficult year,” said Champ.

The long-term effects of the pandemic on the mental health of students can’t be known for certain, but the Wall Street Journal article said scientists forecast deeper, longer lasting problems for more children than most natural disasters because of the duration of the Covid crisis.