Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students are experiencing an extended period of social isolation than before. This may have profound long-term impacts on students. Hanover Research provides mental health and physical health risks associated with social isolation:
- Long-term Mental Health Risks
- Anxiety disorders
- Suicidal Tendencies
- Long-term Physical Health Risks
- Inflammation and high CRP
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Adult obesity
Understanding the effects and symptoms of social isolation in school-age youth can provide districts with tools to identify students at greatest risk and implement appropriate supports to mitigate the impact of the current crisis, both now and upon the return to school.
Children and adolescents are likely to experience high rates of depression and most likely anxiety during and after enforced isolation ends. This may increase as enforced isolation continues. Clinical services should offer preventive support and early intervention where possible and be prepared for an increase in mental health-related needs (Loades, Maria Elizabeth et al., 2020). Teachers may also play a beneficial role in supporting students through these challenges. According to Curtis in Edutopia, teachers are in the position to help build strong relationships with and between students to help them through these challenging times.
Best-practices and Implications for Professional Practice
National Child Traumatic Stress Network expresses the importance of educators incorporating the practices below in supporting students in times of social isolation:
- Establish a routine and maintain clear communication.
- Have relationships and well-being take a priority over assignment and behavioral compliance.
- Provide a sense of safety.
- Maintain connectedness.
- Encourage a sense of hope.
The Ohio Department of Education emphasizes the importance of relationships, building resiliency, supporting behavior, implementing trauma-informed practices, and adult self-care through times of social isolation. The Department offers ways for maintaining connectedness and a positive school climate:
- Create a sense of community virtually.
- Share positive actions and behaviors through announcements to uplift students and staff.
- Establish virtual opportunities to stay in contact with students.
- Create belonging routines such as classroom mottos or songs chanted at the beginning or end of class every day.
- Relationship building through personal sharing.
- Ensure mask comfort.
- Plan shared projects.
Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources:
Sample Classroom Strategies
IL SEL Standards:
- Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
- Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
- Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.
These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.
a. Implement inclusionary programs such as Sandy Hook’s Start with Hello to reduce social isolation.
b. Journal/Writing Narrative prompts: How can you help a friend who seems to be removing themselves from activities and connection?
c. Institute a “Buddy” program where students are connected and check-in with each other daily.
d. Role Play Scenarios:
1. You text someone and they don’t respond.
a.What are some responses you may have/feel?
b.Reframe the negative responses.
c.What can be your next steps?
2. A friend is acting different. They seem either angry or distant all the time. What might you say to them?
e. Class Discussions:
1. Have students give examples of when a friend has isolated themselves. What has happened?
2. Have students discuss the impact of social isolation on their well-being.
3. Have students discuss ways to maintain connectedness.