Back to School and Mental Health

Health and Wellness

With the first few weeks of school behind us, I am reflecting on what it was like this time of year for my kids as they got ready to board school buses for their first day of class or move into dorms. During this back-to-school season, it’s normal for parents and kids to have mixed emotions of being both excited and scared, but so much has changed over the past two years.

All of us can relate to how the pandemic caused widespread disruption to our lives and the lives of our children, especially as far as school is concerned. Going back to school is different this year for most students, educators, AND parents after more than a year of virtual learning due to COVID-19. The advent of the mass shootings in schools brought additional stress as well.

There is now a big concern, for students of all ages, on how these factors have or will affect the mental health of our children. There is not a lot I can tell you about this as it hasn’t really been studied, but I can give you some suggestions that others have made to help in these trying times.

Acknowledge that you all may have mixed emotions about going back.

Whether excited, afraid, sad or anxious, realizing that all of these emotions are reasonable reactions to this year’s unique circumstances can help. It’s important to remember that whatever you, your child or your family members are feeling is ok. You may feel many different emotions at once — even seemingly contradictory emotions — and that’s ok too. You can be both happy and sad, both excited and anxious, both relieved and afraid.

Talking about how you are all feeling is a good thing.

Simply make an intentional effort to ask how those around you are doing — whether those are your friends, your students, your colleagues or your family members. And, in return, be honest about how you are doing. By normalizing these conversations and modeling vulnerability, you can reduce stigma and help others feel more comfortable sharing.

Watch for changes in behavior.

Things like changes in sleep, increased irritability, increased weight gain or changes in appetite can signal that there may be an underlying issue.

Lend a hand.

Parents can help by identifying the problem and offering solutions. Ultimately, resources are available to help students of all ages deal with their mental health, but the daunting task of finding the right one can keep students away. There are many resources out there.

Don’t blame everything on COVID.

The increase in anxiety and mental health issues isn’t solely a result of the pandemic. The number of students struggling with mental health has been rising for years. While the past two years have been especially challenging, do not to belittle your students’ feelings by explaining them away with the pandemic. In an academic year where there is a push for normalcy, some students may not be ready to return to business as usual.

As we navigate through a new school year, we are also getting used to a new normal, and mental health is more important now than ever. Remember to acknowledge the many emotions you, your students, your loved ones or your colleagues may be experiencing; normalize the conversation around mental health with those around you; and look for new opportunities as we navigate this unique time. This year, may we each be proactive not only in our pursuit toward academic excellence, but also in our pursuit toward our mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and communal health.


Sue Sproule is the Director of Nursing at The Arc of Monroe. She has 44 years of experience in nursing and four have been at The Arc of Monroe. To connect with Sue, email her at

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