COVID-19’s Impact on Student Mental Health

COVID-19’s Impact on Student Mental Health
  • Lower Division
  • Upper Division
Rachel Gall

By Dr. Rachel Gall, Denver JDS Psychologist


What a whirlwind the past year has been. It’s been a year. A year! A year of masking, distancing, sanitizing, hand-washing, Zooming, and nasal-swabbing, let alone the sociopolitical climate we are situated in. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend.

As the psychologist at Denver JDS, I have a front-row seat to the impact of the pandemic on our students’ mental health. I, along with our faculty, have been inspired by the level of flexibility, optimism, and resilience that our students have shown. Students want to be at school and benefit from the structure, academic challenge, and socialization that they so deeply need.

At the same time, their worlds have been upended. Our students are scared, lonely, angry, and grieving pre-Covid life. They are craving comfort, physical touch, reassurance, closeness, and safety - things that are much harder for teachers to provide from behind a mask and six feet away, let alone the helplessness parents experience at seeing their children struggling with the stress and restrictions.

Our youngest students have spent ⅙ of their lives in a pandemic. Developmentally, they are working on a sense of purposefulness and initiative, mastering their routines and asserting themselves as competent and independent beings. The pandemic turned this independence and sense of security upside down. I hear the same things over and over from parents - “My child is holding it together at school and melts down as soon as they get in the car.” “My child is having more accidents and stomachaches.” “My child is having a harder time with changes in routine, transitions, and separation.” The world feels unsafe and unpredictable and they wish they could return to a safer moment in time.

Our older elementary students are, developmentally, working on their sense of industriousness and achievement. They are proud scientists, philosophers, writers, artists, activists, and athletes. They have a complex understanding and deep curiosity about the world around them. At this age children’s self-esteem tends to be more vulnerable since they are working so very hard on goal achievement. Worries about monsters under the bed are replaced with the weight of real world fears such as sickness, violence, and oppression. Now, during Covid, their parents are more stressed, they have less contact with friends and extended family, and have fewer opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities.

The developmental tasks of late middle- and high school center around identity development and belongingness. Who am I? What do I value and need? What am I good at? How do I stay true to myself and fit in at the same time? Teens’ natural, developmental needs for greater independence, more socialization, and boundary-pushing have been curtailed by Covid restrictions, leading to feelings of helplessness and lack of control. In this age group we see increased depression and isolation, lack of motivation, increased conflict, and desperation for social contact which has been transferred online even more than usual.

I encourage parents to tap into the developmental needs of their children. How have your child’s developmental tasks been impacted by Covid? How is your child communicating, through their behavior, what they feel and what they need? Are they telling you they need safety, predictability, relaxed expectations, snuggles, a greater voice in family decision-making, or more emotional check-ins? Perhaps they are telling you that they need a parent who is taking care of themselves, who is getting enough rest, who is letting go of impossible expectations of perfection, and who is granting themselves compassion for doing the best they can during an unbearably exhausting and demanding time.

This pandemic has been going on for too long. Please reach out to the counseling department for support if you or your child could benefit from a check-in. We are here for you.

In addition, I invite all parents and caregivers at Denver JDS to attend our quarterly MenschSkills Parent Breakfasts. We host a diverse group of local experts whose presentations have included boundaries and consent, substance use prevention, sexuality development, body image and the media, technology and mental health, and “Greatest hits from the anonymous question box.” Parents report that our conversations are informative and help them feel empowered with the knowledge and skills to tackle conversations around challenging mental health topics. I often hear feedback about how meaningful it is to talk about these topics with other parents and get ideas and support. I hope you will join us!

Our next MenschSkills Breakfast is scheduled for 8:30-10am on Thursday, March 4. We will be featuring Julie Goldberg, a Licensed Addiction Counselor specializing in adolescent therapy in Denver, Colorado. Julie has extensive experience working with addiction and youth, with a background in sex education and public health. She also works as a Prevention Specialist and district trainer for Denver Public Schools where she helps schools implement comprehensive substance use prevention curriculum. 

At this Menschskills Parent Breakfast, Julie will discuss current substance use trends in the Denver area, how to talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol, and ways to support them if an issue occurs. Participants will leave feeling more confident to address substance use with teens and know how to access resources when needed.

RSVP Now for the Mensckills Parent Breakfast!

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