The Emotional Impact of COVID-19

Research: Students Feeling Stressed; So Are Their Teachers

The mental and emotional health of students is becoming just as important during COVID-19 as their academic development. Two recent surveys have examined the social and emotional well-being of K-12 students but from opposing sides — one focused on the students and the other focused on teachers. Both were undertaken by companies that sell products and services to help teachers teach or participate in well-being activities.

In a survey of more than 11,000 K-12 students ages 13 and up, conducted after the stay-at-home orders went into effect in most states, half of students (51 percent) said they felt more stressed and nearly four in 10 (39 percent) reported that they were feeling more lonely now and 38 percent expressed greater concern about their mental well-being since before COVID-19.

This survey was conducted by EVERFI, an education technology company that offers free digital learning around major life issues such as mental wellness, prescription drug safety and sexual assault prevention. Questions about their well-being were added to the start of EVERFI K-12 courses undertaken by students.

Areas of greatest concern included the possible or actual loss of loved ones; hyper-awareness of health; changes in the rites of passage; and on-going isolation, fear and uncertainty.

"Historically, when the student is grieving the loss of a loved one, school can be a protective factor. It's an environment where people know what's going on, they can rally around them, they can check in, they can provide support," noted Erin McClintock, head of impact, social and emotional learning for EVERFI, during a webinar on the findings. "In a digital environment that can look a lot different. And it poses challenges both for students and for the educators who wish to support them."

She added that the pandemic "is completely changing the way in which students live, in which they learn and in which they function in the world. For many, and for more to come, this also includes losing loved ones. And in some cases, it's impacting their own health as well."

A survey done among 8,054 K-12 educators in 11 states showed that while teachers believe that professional development and implementing trauma-informed practices is important, only half felt prepared to recognize signs of trauma in their students. This survey was run by Kognito, a company that specializes in developing role-play health simulations for multiple industries, including education. The survey took place between November 2018 and March 2020.

The Kognito survey found that almost everybody (98 percent) agreed that educators should be trained in trauma-informed classroom practices. And more than eight in 10 (82 percent) agreed that one of the jobs of teachers and other school staff is to hook up students who are experiencing psychological trauma or distress with mental health support services. But most don't consider themselves "adequately prepared" to do anything about it:

  • Half said they couldn't necessarily recognize signs of trauma;

  • Three in five said they were ill-prepared to use communication strategies to help students feel safe or talk with them to persuade them to connect with support; and

  • Seven in 10 said they weren't ready to implement trauma-informed approaches in teaching.

"Supporting student and staff well-being through trauma-informed practices can help reduce the negative short and long-term effects associated with [adverse childhood experiences]," a report on the results stated. "This intersection of health and education is a step forward in providing the supportive and safe learning environment all students deserve."

A copy of the Kognito survey results is available with registration on the company's website.

Both companies are making resources available to educators and families.

Kognito is promoting 35-45-minute trauma-informed training for teachers that uses simulated role-play. While the training was initially produced for schools after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston in 2017, recently Miami-Dade County Public Schools adopted the program to help its teachers build skills in talking with students experiencing psychological distress due to fallout from the virus.

And EVERFI has compiled free digital lessons to help students with mental wellness.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.