School under pandemic conditions still takes some getting used to two years later. Rebekka Martínez Méndez is head of the counseling center for children, adolescents and parents at Caritas Südniedersachsen. Psychologist observes among schoolgirls. Students continue to experience increased psychological stress compared to pre-pandemic times.
Unlike the first Corona winter, the school year so far has gone well in attendance. How do you explain the continued increase in mental health crisis situations among children and adolescents??
Most mental illnesses develop gradually. Constantly changing regulations place enormous demands on young people in terms of their ability to cope and adapt. Current studies show more psychological problems compared to before the pandemic. In the counseling center we observe an aggravation of the symptom severity.
What are the symptoms?
Among depressive moods and anxieties, self-injurious behavior, suicidal thoughts, severe social anxiety, and even disturbed sleeping and eating patterns are increasingly common. In the past, we always had the odd case with suicidal thoughts, but now such cases are part of everyday consulting life.
How do you explain?
Certainly it has to do with the fact that the child and adolescent therapy practices are reaching their limits and we are taking care of more adolescents who actually need medical treatment. The educational mission, which schools take very seriously because of past school closures, comes to learners as increased pressure to perform. Learning assessments have been conducted at many schools. They were not graded, but resulted in some feeling additional pressure. The number of exams was also very high before Christmas. Educational mission and mental health apparently come into conflict in the pandemic. This is difficult for everyone involved.
What solutions can there be?
Something should be done both individually and structurally. For individuals, a disadvantage compensation helps. Substitute benefits could be provided, and break, work, and preparation times could be adjusted. In terms of social and school policy, we need mandatory prevention projects on mental crises in adolescence. Before the pandemic, we were able to offer such workshops sporadically, but to contain the infection they are currently cancelled altogether.
Do schools need specially sensitized staff?
For us, school social workers are important partners. They should be available everywhere, even at high schools. You are in uncomplicated contact with the young people and can prevent crises. I see an opportunity in the expansion of after-school care, especially at secondary schools.
Why would that help?
For young people in psychological crisis situations, a fixed rhythm, a reliable place where one is not alone, is extremely important. It would be great to have homework and study groups that are not as large as whole classes. If teachers are then there for follow-up questions, they can make an enormous contribution to stabilizing the psyche.
What role does the psyche play in learning?
Only a happy child can learn! And on the happiness front, there are big losses during the pandemic. Many widespread mental illnesses have a massive effect on the ability to concentrate. When someone is unwell, forcing learning is of no use. Mental pressure tends to make the situation worse. Emotions are processed in the brain in the limbic system. If this is always activated, such as with anxiety, then there is a lack of activity in the cortex where cognitive activity takes place. If I run away from a lion, I can't do integral calculus at the same time. In depressive moods, thinking is taken over by worries, fears and insecurities about oneself and one's abilities. Then it is often not possible to analyze a complex text in an efficient way, because the musings tie up all cognitive resources.
Interview: Johannes Broermann
Remedies for mental crises Together with parents and teachers, remedies for mental crises can be sought. Questions should be clarified with the schools such as:
– Can requirements be reduced? – Are there previously unknown degrees of freedom? Temporarily could do without certain tasks or set a time limit for homework. – What are the options for time off? – Can support teachers and school social work with a joint strategy? – Can learners get constructive feedback more often? – Can learning processes be controlled by the joy of learning? If a subject is fun, it could be a learning focus.
Children, adolescents and parents can pay attention to this themselves:
– Which learning strategies help? Which create more stress? Cheat sheets can also simply "drive you crazy" just before an exam. What does a rhythm with concentration phases look like?. Physical activity from? This is how concentration-. Learning performance proven to increase. How can I integrate rewards. Produce anticipation? Anticipation of a "series Friday" among friends helps during the school week. – Is there any experience with stabilizing techniques? What has helped in times of crisis? Conscious breathing, movement breaks or autogenic training can help. – What helps with brooding? Musings about the past or the future cause stress. Reduce the power of concentration. Appealing to the senses (such as favorite music), attention-grabbing activities (such as a board game), and social interaction help. – Europe-wide helplines for children and young people can be reached under the toll-free number 116 111. There you can also get information about the nearest counseling center.
Looking for moments of happiness
New website helps against corona blues Children, young people and parents continue to feel particularly burdened by the pandemic. To counteract bad moods and downright corona blues, "moments of happiness" are to be spread by the family centers in the Göttingen district and the educational counseling centers of AWO, Caritas and the district. They publish their suggestions together on the Internet.
"We give suggestions that can be implemented in everyday life with simple means," social pedagogue Markus Piorunek from Caritas explains the concept. The positive things in everyday life should also be noticed. "We want to enable families to feel self-efficacy, so there's a counter to feeling at the mercy of the pandemic," Piorunek says. For example, a podcast about a little trick with marbles encourages you to collect the beautiful moments of the day and open your senses to everyday events and encounters.