Psychologists discuss potential mental health impacts of return to school for students

Psychologists discuss potential mental health impacts of return to school for students

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Whether or not schools operate in-person or virtually this fall, families will be forced to make a lot of adjustments - and there is no one-size-fits-all decision when it comes to what is best for students’ mental health.

Amanda Sovik-Johnston says it’s a kids job as they get older to become their own individual person - away from their family. But what if they spent all their time at home, even during school hours?

“For kids that are at home, and they’re not getting any social interaction at all, I think, going to school with restrictions is probably great for them,” said Sovik-Johnson, a psychologist with Virginia Family Therapy.

But a return to the classroom would come with many restrictions, and it may not benefit everyone.

“For other kids who are already anxious, maybe going to school and feeling as if they’re going to get in trouble if they touch someone,” she said. “I think that could really heighten their anxiety.”

Psychologist Leon Henry, who also works at Virginia Family Therapy, says outcomes of virtual learning vary.

“Some children work better online, you know in these days, children are really technology savvy,” Henry said. “You know my 2-year-old can work an iPhone. But at the same time there are other children who need more hands-on. They need more structure, they need to be able to be in the room with the teacher in order to pay attention.”

Another structure that’s helpful for children is a routine, but that may be hard to come by.

“We’re in a pandemic,” Henry said, “so to think that we’re going to have a routine that’s just going to be consistent and never change, it’s just not likely.”

In addition to these concerns, Sovik-Johnston says there are topics we haven’t navigated yet.

“People excluding because of fear of getting the coronavirus interacting with someone new and being worried about getting coronavirus and a new level of anxiety,” she said, “I think that is gonna impact kids and teachers alike.”

Stovik-Johnston said the best way for kids to get through these times is to find someone, perhaps a family member, teacher, or coach, with whom they can share their feelings.

Both Henry and Sovik-Johnston say it’s important for students and their families, as well as teachers, to make decisions that are best for them.

“There’s no guidebook, there’s no plan but for what’s best,” Stovik-Johnston said. “Right now, it’s doing what is best for your family.”

Virginia Family Therapy is offering different services, including support with developing a plan for next year with parent coaches, as well as parent consultation.

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