For students, their parents and educators, the world of education has been turned upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to unexpectedly learn or teach in virtual classrooms. For educators, it may be more difficult to spot which students are struggling mentally in this new setting. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that nearly 25% of adolescents between age 13 and 18 experience some type of anxiety disorder, yet only one-third of those adolescents receive treatment. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 13.3% of adolescents between age 12 and 17 experience at least one major depressive episode per year, with around 30% of those affected receiving treatment. Increasing access to treatment requires support from the prominent adult figures in the lives of these adolescents, one being a teacher. If signs of anxiety and depression can be identified, then earlier intervention can be established to support the adolescent’s mental health. How can educators continue monitoring the behaviors and mental health of their students while their connection is channeled through technology? Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways anxiety and depression show up in classrooms and see how these signs may be translated in a virtual environment.
Difficulty Participating in Class
Virtual participation may look a bit different than in-person participation, but for students experiencing anxiety or depression the act may bring similar feelings. Students with anxiety may lose interest or focus during class time due to the heightened sense of concern for other worries or thoughts they’re currently experiencing. This could result in a physical sign to the educator that the student is having difficulty focusing, that they may appear to be daydreaming or not paying attention. Students may also experience fear in volunteering to participate or being called on during class discussions due to anxiety around being put on the spot or a fear of not having the right answer. If educators notice a trend with students who tend to shy away from participating, or freeze when asked to provide an answer, it may be related to anxiety. In a virtual environment this will take some increased awareness on the educator’s part. They may need to pay closer attention to the students’ individual video screens while teaching to look for these behaviors.
Depression can manifest as sadness or fatigue for many adolescents, and may result in the student skipping class or perceiving that they do not have the energy to participate. They may have a difficult time finding the motivation to sign into their virtual classroom due to the fatigue they feel from their depression or anxiety. Additionally, this could be connected to social anxiety, where students may anticipate or worry that they will be asked to interact with their peers. This worry may result in their lack of attendance in class. If educators notice a trend of poor attendance in students without explanation of illness or other extenuating circumstances from the parent or guardian, it may be a sign of depression or anxiety.
Frequently Reporting Illness
Having an awareness of the physical manifestations of anxiety can also be helpful for educators. Many people experiencing anxiety may also feel physical symptoms like being sick to their stomachs or having headaches. If students are calling out of class, or even reporting they need to leave class early due to these symptoms, it may also be related to anxiety. These may be more difficult to see in a virtual environment but are still valid manifestations that students may experience with anxiety.
Not Completing Assignments
A student experiencing anxiety may often feel that their work must be perfect, otherwise it is not worthy of submitting. The fear of imperfection can become debilitating and takes away from the student’s ability to complete their work. Both anxiety and depression may also cause the student to doubt their own ability to work independently on assignments, yet the student feels unable to ask for the support they need from their teacher. At first glance, it may appear that the student is just choosing not to complete their work, however, an educator who is aware of this connection between anxiety and fear of imperfection may take this as a sign that their student needs support. If the educator notices a pattern of a student not completing assignments, it is worth checking in with the student to ensure that their needs are being met.
How Educators Can Support Students
The simplest and most important intervention an educator can choose is to check in with the student. A quick check-in can make a huge difference to an adolescent who is experiencing anxiety or depression and may open the door to talking about what they’re feeling or any significant events taking place at home. Referring the student for a discussion with the school counselor can also be a helpful start to begin addressing their mental health, in addition to making sure the parents are aware of what the student is showing in the classroom, whether it’s virtual or in-person.
If you or someone you love is experiencing depression or anxiety, Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program can help. Get in touch with us today.
Madeline Radigan is a registered dietitian who works with adolescents in mental health residential treatment. She is passionate about advocating for weight inclusivity and a non-diet approach to help people heal their relationships with food and their bodies. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors and spending time on trails with her family. You can find more of Madeline’s thoughts and work at radnutrition.net or on Instagram at @mradnutrition.