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With Major Life Events in Jeopardy, Many N.H. Teenagers in a State of Grief

VIA Q1045

With schools closed for the rest of the year, many major milestones for high schoolers are suddenly being canceled as well - everything from graduations, to proms, spring sports, and school plays.

Because of this, teens may be feeling overwhelming loss, disappointment, and uncertainty about the future, which can lead to more serious mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

NHPR's Peter Biello spoke with Kallie Provencher, the school social worker at Nashua High School North, to learn more about how teens are coping with the COVID-19 crisis.

Note: the transcript below is machine-generated and was edited lightly for clarity. 

So you work with about 80 students at Nashua North. What are you hearing from them about their main concerns right now during the pandemic?

So mostly I'm hearing about them feeling, you know, isolated, the students that haven't been able to... or who have been following the rules, I should say, and staying in. And they're concerned about what the future holds. And they're obviously very upset about not getting to come back for the year. And my seniors are obviously in a state of grief, I would call it, for what they are missing out on for the end of their high school career.

You mentioned that some of the students who are following the guidelines may also be feeling quite isolated. How are you helping the students work through feelings associated with isolation?

So we talk a lot about in my Google classroom with students individually about things that they can do to feel like they have more control over their life. And we talk about coping skills as well. You know, anybody who is feeling anxious has a lot of, you know, just nervous energy inside of them. So we talk about the importance of exercise and different ways to connect with not only the students that they go to school with and that they're friends but other people that might be experiencing the same thing as well. So we really try to give them, at least my one-to-ones and in my Google classroom, just different ways that they can still feel connected, they can still have a sense of normalcy and that they can also express the way that they're feeling and know that any way that they're feeling is OK. And that their experience is definitely unique to anything any of us adults have been through, but that we can relate to feelings of loss of control, feelings of sadness, feelings of disappointment and things like that.

So with unemployment numbers going up every week, parents may be laid off and that may be very stressful for them. To what extent is family stress a problem for the students you see on a regular basis?

I think family stress is a big portion of it. I think that there's teens out there who worry about their families and the dynamics can put some pressure on them to help to provide or at least provide for themselves so then they can take that burden off of their parents. We have students who have, you know, families that are not necessarily the healthiest in dynamic, so we worry about them and their continued exposure to things that, you know, weigh on their mental health. And again, we work to connect with those students and provide resources and support. New Hampshire, I think, has done a good job, the Nashua community in particular, I think is really working hard to eliminate barriers to basic needs such as food and hygiene products, transportation to get food, things like that. So we work really hard to break down those barriers and provide resources so it takes some of the burden off of the student. And then also offering their families mental health support as well and checking in with them and making sure that they know that there's things out there and that they don't have to, you know, go out of their homes to access those things, that they can reach out to us at the school. We've started like a social work tab on our district website that has all of those listed and, you know, has the information so they can access it and hopefully remove some of those burdens that trickled down from, you know, all the way to the top of the family, down to the student.

And lastly, for any teenagers who might be listening. What advice do you have for them during this difficult time?

So there's a couple of things that I would give for advice to students who are struggling during this time or just experiencing this. It would definitely be to stay active within their friendships. You know, obviously keeping social distancing in mind, but staying active, doing face time, doing Zoom meetings with their friends, just staying connected. I also think that it's important for them to be voicing how they feel and knowing that anything that they feel is OK. And they can be, you know, mad. They can be sad. They can be disappointed. They can be, you know, happy that the school year is over. It's important for them to know that anything that they feel is OK and that we are here to listen to those feelings, validate those feelings and, you know, just connect with them in general. And then lastly, I would say that they should kind of look back on this time and see what they... you know, what they can take control over. And talk to their administration at their school if they want their graduation to look a certain way or they have an idea for prom or, you know, they have thoughts. I think it's important for them to feel empowered and feel like they're a part of this process and these decisions that are being made.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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