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As new school year begins, some counselors are concerned about students’ mental health

A Vestal High School student uses chalk to write an affirming message during a suicide awareness event. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)
A Vestal High School student uses chalk to write an affirming message during a suicide awareness event. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)
chalk spot web


School is back in session and many districts in New York have left behind most of their COVID protocols. But the after effects of remote learning are still affecting students, particularly when it comes to their mental health. A rising trend of depression, suicide and anxiety has only gotten worse in the years since the onset of the pandemic. 

Eleventh-grader Bella Wojcik is crouched on the sidewalk in front of Vestal High School with a piece of pink sidewalk chalk. 

"We're trying to draw a brain with like dumbbells, like to stay strong," Wojcik said.

On their lunch period, Wojcik and other students are chalking positive messages on the sidewalk in front of the school. It's part of an activity that aims to destigmatize mental health issues like depression and anxiety. 

Both have become increasingly common in the years since kids have returned to school in person. So have incidents of fighting and bullying between students. 

School counselor Merryl Wallach said schools and families are still experiencing the after effects of remote learning, nearly two years later. 

"We had kids that came to ninth grade, who hadn't been in school for two years," Wallach said. "So they didn't develop the social skills that they needed to interact with each other. It was kind of like they were new to school."

Samuel Armand, an 11th grader, said in the first two years of high school, it had been difficult to connect with other students. In his freshman year, classes were mostly still held remotely.

He said since then, he's started to figure out who he is and where he fits in. But he said that accomplishment has not come easily.

"I am usually seen as quite outgoing, you know, happy all the time," Armand said. "But I've certainly dealt with my fair share of suicidal thoughts."

Armand said as a child of immigrants, it’s sometimes been hard to talk about those thoughts openly. He said awareness events like this do help. But he’d like to see even more focus on mental health in school.

"Despite what school has been trying to promote, sometimes it doesn't, just doesn't feel like it's enough," Armand said.

Many education advocates have echoed that sentiment as well. School mental health experts say many students are behind on their social and emotional skills and are urging more funding to help students catch up.