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What are guidance counsellors saying about student mental health during COVID-19?

With COVID-19 impacting both students and instructors alike, educators in mentoring or counselling roles across academic institutions are beginning to feel the brutal force of rising mental health issues.

This year has been a challenge for many educators, staff, and students working in our schools. In the United States alone, almost 51 million students have been affected by school closures. In the first frantic weeks of remote education, school staff quickly changed their routines, trying their best to recreate in-school education’s realities using only the software platforms and technology they had available.

In specific ways, remote education widened the already-growing technology gap between affluent students who had no issues logging in versus their peers who struggled to find the technology required to access their education. Educators and counsellors try to help, but the sheer scope of the issues they faced and the lack of resources available make it difficult.

We’ll explore the significant challenges that have faced counsellors in the last year and share some strategies and resources to help.

What our counsellors have seen during distance learning

A recent study conducted by researchers from Harvard and Boston College was one of the first to examine the challenges facing guidance counsellors trying to work during a pandemic. They surveyed 948 guidance counsellors across the United States and Puerto Rico and asked them a series of questions on their needs, their students’ needs, and how they changed their working conditions to adapt to COVID-19.

The most important takeaway was that overall, “school counselors were not able to spend as much time as usual counselling students about social-emotional issues, career development, or post-secondary plans.” Instead, logistical challenges overtake counsellors’ time at the expense of their regular counselling work.

Undoubtedly this work—which often included checking up on students with repeated absences, delivering technology, and supporting teachers—was necessary. However, it left counsellors with very little time to engage students in any type of social, emotional, or career-focused conversations, where their expertise and training were most necessary.

Only 15% of counsellors surveyed said that they had been given more support from their district than before the pandemic.

How this affects students

Guidance counsellors are often the first line of defense for students who are suffering emotionally, academically, or socially. With guidance counsellors stretched thin and unable to do their jobs, students’ mental health has suffered.

In a UK study published in The Lancet, 26% of students surveyed reported that they could not access mental health support. Students worldwide report high levels of depression and anxiety, and many are worried about their prospects for life after high school and university. Despite their best efforts, guidance counsellors are struggling to allay these fears and provide meaningful relief.

Offering COVID stress relief to students

Despite these shocking statistics and reports, the state of our students’ mental health should come as no surprise. Here are some ways that we can support guidance counsellors in their fight to help students:

Involve guidance counsellors in COVID-19 school planning

Despite being asked to contribute to additional duties, many guidance counsellors report a lack of inclusion in the decision-making process. Instead, they were given directives from administrators that were restrictive rather than supportive.

To keep our students healthy and engaged with their distance learning classes as much as possible, we must include guidance counsellors in all school planning sessions. They can give valuable insight into supporting students and advocating for their needs in different ways than teachers.

Improve psychological safety for students

Understanding trauma and how it affects students is a critical component in providing a safe, educational environment. Even though students are not physically in the same building anymore, teachers must still use a trauma-informed approach to care for their pupils.

Typical examples include:

  • Using conversation, rather than punishment, as a method to deal with a student acting out in class.
  • Acknowledging loss instead of avoiding difficult conversations.

Implement early warning systems

An early warning system is critical to ensure that students don’t get lost in the shuffle and receive personalized attention when they need it most. While guidance counsellors should help design this system, making it their sole responsibility will keep them from their other essential duties and quickly leads to burnout.

Ensure that educators and support staff can work together on this by creating the system collectively and hiring additional support staff if the workload becomes too great.

Invest in helpful technology

A great way to free up more staff time and make life easier for students is by investing in technology like Crowdmark. This digital grading tool allows teachers to start marking their papers online, freeing up more time to contribute to their students’ wellbeing. It also gives students an easy, centralized portfolio for their school work, making it less complicated and time-consuming to submit homework and other assignments.

Support student mental health with Crowdmark

There are many different ways to support your students’ mental health, but ultimately it begins by helping those on the first line of defense: teachers, guidance counsellors, and other educators.

At Crowdmark, we believe our platform can help. It simplifies both the assignment submission and grading process, allowing students to submit homework from anywhere—even a smartphone, especially if that’s the only technology they can access. Then, teachers benefit from a simplified grading process, using rich text to give students access to more valuable feedback. Get in touch to try it today with a no-risk free trial.

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