Students deal with mental health issues related to the pandemic

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On a recent afternoon at the Academy of Arts, Careers, and Technology (AACT), students gathered around tables to eat lunch together. Over the past two years, sharing a meal with friends has not always been possible due to the rapid transition to remote learning at the start of the pandemic. As students return to school, Avalon Bussick says things are still tough even now.

“As a senior in high school, I spent more than half of my high school experience in the pandemic. And I noticed that a lot of my peers and I have declining mental health due to the fact that we can’t have a normal high school experience like hanging out with our friends, having school dances, normal things you would go into in your high school experience,” Bussick said.

Last fall, one of Bussick’s close friends committed suicide.

“Nobody should feel like they have nobody around, nobody to talk to, and I think it’s just important to make sure everyone feels like they have someone. ‘one,” Bussick said.

In addition to dealing with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, many students struggle with their daily routines. After getting used to the online class schedule, the transition to in-person teaching was a struggle in itself.

“It has certainly been difficult, especially with a hybrid schedule. I remember not sleeping at all because going from being able to stay in bed until 8 a.m. to having to wake up at 6 a.m. mentally strained me so much that I just couldn’t sleep at all,” said Caden McDonald, another senior. at AACT.

In 2020, Nevada’s youth mental health ranks 51st, making it the worst of any region in the United States according to Mental Health America. This ranking was determined by several factors, such as the number of young people who had at least one major depressive episode in the last year. Erin Levenberg is a licensed family and marriage therapist, and she came to AACT last fall to help with these issues.

“I’ve seen, you know, colleagues, friends who are therapists in the community are fully booked, even unable to take on waiting lists. There are so many people with mental health issues, and kids and teens aren’t alone,” Levenberg said.

An important part of Levenberg’s job is to make sure students don’t plan to harm themselves.

“Probably the most concerning issues I see presented are suicidal ideation, which is a very scary kind of symptom that’s hard to predict even when you’re screening,” Levenberg said.

Levenberg advises parents to be alert for signs that their child may not cope with the challenges created by the pandemic. These may include, but are not limited to, changes in mood, school performance, or appetite. As for students like Bussick, she has developed her own coping mechanisms.

“I discovered this a lot through art. I’m in my school’s graphic design academy, and I also like to draw and paint, and I found it a good way to channel my emotions Bussick said.

She recently designed an abstract digital portrait for an art contest and shared some details about the meaning behind the piece.

Courtesy of Avalon Bussick

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An abstract portrait created by Avalon Bussick for an art competition. The piece is meant to express Bussick’s emotions in a unique way.

“This human figure is somewhere in space. …And besides them, there are just a lot of different emotions on their heads. We have sadness, we have contentment, we have jealousy, happiness, anger and also anxiety,” Bussick said.

Rachel Robinson has been Bussick’s graphic design teacher for a few years. In class, she was able to closely observe how students process their emotions through artwork.

“Art is so wonderful for doing that, for conveying emotions and showing your ups and downs. And maybe you have a political message. Maybe you want to show how hard life has been these last two years. A lot of kids have lost family members, a lot of kids have mental health issues, and that’s huge,” Robinson said.

Robinson says that despite the challenges of the pandemic, she has seen her students use this pain to harness their creativity and cultivate empathy.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is available at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

KUNR’s Youth Media program is a special partnership with the Washoe County School District to train the next generation of journalists. Over the past few years, this program has trained dozens of high school journalists, many of whom have gone on to study journalism or a related field in college. This unique program also received national recognition from the Public Media Journalists Association in the category of Best Collaborative Effort. You can see and listen to all student work in the program here.

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