2020 was a difficult year filled with racial unrest, political conflict, and much more. With COVID-19, one of the pandemic’s catastrophic side effects is suicide among students.
Since August last year, three students who attended Oklahoma State University took their own lives. Some students believe that the added stress from the pandemic was a primary cause, so OSU seniors petitioned to have their grading system changed to a pass/fail option in response.
According to AAP publications, “Significantly higher rates of suicide-related behaviors appear to correspond to times when COVID-19-related stressors and community responses,” such as stay-at-home orders and school closures, “were heightened, indicating that youth experienced elevated distress during these periods.”
Many schools weigh the pros and cons of in-person and virtual learning due to students’ mental health across America, with COVID-19 exposure being the first to come to mind.
“When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the COVID numbers we need to look at anymore,” Jesus Jara, the Clark County superintendent, stated. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, see them, and look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.”
Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Director of Centers for Disease Control, foretold student risk and did a briefing on tools needed to support school reopening.
“The unique and critical role that schools play makes it a priority to open schools safely this fall and to help them stay open. This will enable students to receive both academic instruction and support, as well as other critical services,” Dr. Redfield stated.
Although school closure cannot be directly linked to suicide, especially with cases of suicide even with in-class learning, there have been spiked cases of students across America who have committed suicide due to isolation and fear for the unknown.
An increasing number of students are reporting mental health conditions in light of the pandemic, with emotions like stress, anxiety, fear and uncertainty. PBS NewsHour had teens discuss their state of mind. One student reported she feels “trapped.”
“During the pandemic, a larger than average share of young adults (ages 18-24) report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder (56 percent),” the Kaiser Family Foundation states, “Compared to all adults, young adults are more likely to report substance use (25 percent vs. 13 percent) and suicidal thoughts (26 percent vs. 11 percent).”
The pandemic has brought to light the unsettling reality of mental health, not just in America but the world at large. The NIMH acknowledges one in five youth has a mental health condition, with half developing by age 14. Still, less than half are getting proper treatment and care.
Schools play the vital role of identifying early signs of mental health conditions with the aid of counseling staff and general training for faculty. NAMI believes that every school should also provide school-based and/or school-linked mental health services with the necessary funding.
“Human condition is not to be socially isolated,” said Brad Hunstable, whose 12-year-old boy committed suicide a few days before his 13th birthday in light of isolation, in a video he made to raise awareness of COVID-19 effects on the children’s state of mind.
The video accentuates the struggles of both children and adults during the period of isolation. Hunstable explains that the pandemic’s isolation should not be compared to the summer holidays because they are nothing alike. He continually mentions the lack of human interaction, which has been reduced to video calls and online games.
Due to the long-lasting global situation and measures such as lockdown and stay-at-home orders, the COVID-19 outbreak’s negative impacts on education is taking a toll on many staff, parents and students.
With schools being a social place for many students, one can only hope that a solution is provided with their mental health a priority.
In-person classes have been in place since August 2020 at Oral Roberts University. This allows for classes to continue as usual with the exception of masks, social distancing, spaced seating for chapel services, and classrooms with no reports of suicide. ORU has finished the fall semester with zero cases of quarantine or isolation.
The school has also managed to keep students engaged, working in close proximity to the Student Association.
ORU’s counseling is open to every student, with ten free sessions awarded to each student. Counseling can be reached at email@example.com.
A Student Life member can also be contacted if you or someone you know has suffered a loss. A bereavement form is available on the ORU Student Life app under “Student Development.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 for 24/7, free and confidential support, or SuicidePreventionLifeline.org for an online chat.