Our emotional flexibility is being challenged. From all across Western Manitoba teachers, spiritual leaders, counsellors, administrators and parents agree. Our mental health is at risk. What is behind this situation, other than the obvious frustration and discomfort of social isolation?
The continued school attendance for elementary students has helped this age group. One elementary teacher says, “I think the younger students are adapting very well and show great resilience. Some of them may be missing their extra-curriculars like hockey and dance, but they are happy to come to school and socialize with their classmates.”
The situation is different in high school. A parent of high school students said, “For our Gr.12 students, it's viewed as a missed opportunity… students are anxious, worrying about opportunities for next year and what their graduation will look like.”
Some parents have discovered new strength in themselves as they work hard at being positive examples for their children.
One school principal is concerned that students who need connections to keep their education moving ahead are losing touch. “We’re used to seeing them every day which enables us to check in on them every day, the ones that need checking in on, but…the way we’re set up here, they’re in classes one day and then they’re remote or on the computer the next day. That lack of consistency, of seeing them every day, is enabling or allowing some of those kids to… disappear. They’re hiding, they’re not confident and as a result they’re not connecting”
Gaming, for kids, is filling the time, giving the adrenalin rush that activities like drama and sports may have done, but it can lead to missed sleep. The adrenalin doesn’t score a goal. It can actually increase anxiety and result in a loss to education and mental wellness.
Teachers are handling things. There has actually been a decrease in sick days, but patience is wearing thin. Their workload has nearly doubled and it takes a lot of time just to keep in touch with online students.
This principal is concerned with long-term impacts. “They are coming up on a year of not being engaged and not successfully completing their academics. I think this is going to have some ramifications long-term, two, three and five years down the road.”
There are resources available through the local school as well as the school division, but “people have to be willing to reach out and ask for that help. Sometimes kids aren’t the best at reaching out, or adults for that matter, when they need that help.”
LOOKING FOR HELP
Where are people looking for help in these times? One Western Manitoba pastor is getting many calls from people who are feeling overwhelmed. He thinks we are in a crisis. He has handled two calls from suicidal people in the last week, and at least seven since March of 2020. Many people he talks to are very anxious. Another pastor is finding that people need relationship counselling more frequently, but the pandemic restrictions have made good communication more difficult. “You do lose because there’s what we call in ministry, ‘presence’. You can talk on the phone but you miss the eye contact …there’s so much you can pick up with eye contact and you can’t get that on the phone. You miss that personal touch.”
One factor that seems to be common in all situations is a feeling of being disconnected from our normal lives. Unfortunately, that can lead to feeling disconnected in our relationships as well. There is stress in some marriages. Pastors say that longstanding issues are sometimes amplified, and parents and their children are seeing extra strain.
Important life events are impacted. There is illness when we can’t freely visit, losing a loved one and not being able to celebrate their life with extended family and friends, and elders who have moved from living in their home to a congregate living or personal care situation. Those journeys are lonelier without ready access to family members.
So for youth, families, partners, and elders as well as people in their professional roles, Manitobans are struggling
Counsellors are seeing increased conflict between people who don’t usually spend so much time together, as well as a rise in loneliness, as people can’t spend time with family and friends or begin new relationships.
Alex Rogowsky, aRegistered Professional Counsellor from Western Manitoba, says many of our personal challenges are surfacing under these conditions. “Often it's anxiety and depression that have been kept at bay for some time; now it's tougher to avoid them.” He feels that one of the biggest blocks to mental health “is the assumption that experiencing emotion is weak.” This can keep people from reaching out for help when they need it.
What are useful strategies for dealing with the situation? According to Rogowsky they are “Initiating conversations more often and deeper conversations with the people that matter to us. Finding alone time for introverted folks. Reframing the pandemic not as totally limiting but actually an opportunity to connect with yourself in a way that's hard when life is barreling forward.”
If you need help, reach out, and if you see someone who needs help, reach out.