Mental Health Challenges Abound During Pandemic for People Most At-RiskVoice of OC

Throughout the pandemic, the topic of mental health has been more essential than ever before. Children and students, senior citizens, homeless and low-income residents, medical workers, and veterans are among the most vulnerable populations in Orange County regarding mental health. Like many, they have been impacted by COVID-19 in devastating ways, which has taken a toll on their mental wellness.

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series on Orange County’s mental health. All stories are produced by students in a digital journalism course at Chapman University. This story, the second in the series, was written by Savannah Sauer and edited by Faith Smith. Click here to see the full series. To inquire or write us about our Voice of OC Youth Media program or this piece of work, send an email to [email protected].

Children and Students

According to the 26th Annual Report on the Conditions of Children in Orange County, the shift from normalcy that occurred due to COVID-19 transformed the day-to-day lives of students and families. The average school routine that children were accustomed to has shifted dramatically to fulfill COVID-19 guidelines and adapt to an online learning platform.

The report explains that the pandemic has illuminated issues affecting students’ well-being, such as the lack of available technology, food insufficiency, and overall safety in their homes and communities.

Alexandra Hansen-Ankerstar, a therapist with Chapman University’s Student Psychological Counseling Services, noted declines in students’ mental health due to the sudden changes caused by the pandemic. 

“I have noticed an increase in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and grief. Students are struggling with finding motivation for classes, getting out of their rooms, keeping a schedule, exercising, or interacting with others,” she said.

She also explained that students are more anxious about the future than ever. The current circumstances have shown how unpredictable the world can be, according to Hansen-Ankerstar. 

“What has been presented is more fears with the future, especially with students [who] are graduating and not sure how they are going to find a job,” Hansen-Ankerstar said. 

Danielle Kraft, a teacher at Orange High School, claimed that the increased isolation the pandemic caused had affected students’ mental health. She acknowledged that there were students who suffer from unhealthy living situations, and for them, school was a form of escape.  However, with schools staying mainly virtual, that escape is no longer available for them.

“These kids have been ripped out of the system and thrown back in, ripped out and thrown back in again. It’s been horrible,” Kraft said.

Like students, teachers and educators had to adjust to the changes in the education format and lack of contact this year. 

Kraft added that the pandemic disrupted the routine of going to the teachers’ lounge and seeing other educators, which was small but vital to them. “I see about five teachers a day. I used to see about thirty to forty,” Kraft recounted. She elaborated on the stress the pandemic caused her:

“I have taught twenty-two years, and this has been the worst period of my life. In terms of teaching, I want to walk around and hug [everyone] and be there for [them]…it’s been awful,” Kraft said. 

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