By Raphaela Gold ‘21, Editor-in-Chief
Consuming an endless stream of news about COVID-19, going to sleep and waking up at inconsistent times, and binge-watching all the television shows you can find: these potentially unhealthy activities have become so commonplace that it is easy to ignore the fact that they are not normal. The pandemic can take a massive toll on students’ mental health, particularly for those who have experienced a loss.
Over the past few months, Heschel has adapted its policies in an attempt to complete the curriculum and ensure that students remain healthy. One often-overlooked aspect of the changes is what the school has done to support students’ mental health from afar.
High school psychologist Bonnie Altman said, “I think the biggest challenge I face right now is that I’m missing out on the in-person conversations and the more casual ways of checking in… I try to sit in on some classes so that I see students, but not having the day-to-day interaction is hard.” Social interaction has been proven essential for health; a study in Alameda County, California, found that people who were disconnected from others were “roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties.” This statistic is troubling given that upholding social ties is difficult during these times. The only option is to replicate real-life relationships over the phone, but texting and Facetime are no long-term substitutes for in-person interaction.
Heschel is striving to maintain the connections within our community and ensure that students feel supported in terms of their mental health. As always, students have been reaching out to Altman to set up appointments. Altman emphasized, “I am very available to speak to students, including over breaks and on days when school is closed. Students often come to me themselves or at the recommendation of teachers, advisors, parents, or friends.”
Additionally, Altman has been reaching out to students individually, in small groups, or along with their parents. She makes referrals for outside clinicians through TeleHealth, a company that provides health-related resources online. “I am pleased to say that most of the psychologists in private practice that I know are treating people by TeleHealth, so I have a great referral network,” Altman explained. She has also hosted a series of mental health programs in the evening for the mental health team across each Heschel division to attend.
Students continue to complain of physical health detriments caused by Zoom, like headaches and eye strain. Altman suggests that students experiencing such ailments should communicate with faculty. “As with most struggles, students are often not alone and can benefit from letting people know. Find someone you are comfortable sharing this with and we will help you think through what can be helpful,” she advised. She also recommends wearing blue light glasses, but thinks the most important thing is for students to let teachers know about their situation.
With the loss of everyday social interactions, Altman highlighted the importance of connecting with others and wants students to know that help is available for them. “I would love for students to know that I am available to talk and that they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out,” she noted, adding, “Mental health is so important and I want students to know that most mental health issues respond incredibly well to treatment… reaching out for help is the first step and treatment can make a real difference.”