Are the kids alright? Teens speak out about the emotional toll of a year in isolation

Gunn High School students attend their class via Zoom from a classroom at the Palo Alto campus on Feb. 23. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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Are the kids alright? Teens speak out about the emotional toll of a year in isolation

Gunn High School students attend their class via Zoom from a classroom at the Palo Alto campus on Feb. 23. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Editor's note: Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. More resources are listed at the bottom of this story.

Nine months into the global pandemic, Riley Capuano told a grid of faces on a Zoom screen why she and her peers needed schools to reopen.

"I've never seen this many students struggling with mental health," the Los Altos High School junior said during a virtual school board meeting on Dec. 14. "Being cooped up in your home all day is really, really tough. I'm a pretty happy kid usually but I've never struggled more than I have this year because of being fully online."

Capuano said she'd hit a low point last fall, just before Thanksgiving break. She felt lost. She stopped running, even though she loves cross country and hopes to compete in college. She was going to bed late for no reason.

"I felt like I was just tired of waiting for it to end. I lost all interest in any schoolwork. I didn't find any of it interesting," she said. "I was sick of just waking up, talking to my parents, doing school, being too lazy to run and then repeating (it all over again)."

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Capuano didn't feel hopeless, she said, but like there just "wasn't anything good" on the horizon.

Riley Capuano, a junior at Los Altos High School, completes some school work in her bedroom in her home in Los Altos on March 9. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Capuano is one of a vast many local teenagers who have been feeling this way since their lives in the last year have mostly shrunk to the walls of their homes and computer screens. Normally motivated students have become withdrawn and disconnected, and parents and health experts have been increasingly concerned about youth well-being as the coronavirus pandemic has kept most local schools closed for months longer than anyone anticipated. Desperate parents have called into school board meetings, describing children of all ages who are listless and disengaged. In February, one Palo Alto parent told the school board her children are "empty, zombie-like shells of what they once were."

From April to October 2020, hospitals across the U.S. saw a 31% increase in the proportion of mental health emergency visits by youth ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Locally, Santa Clara County's suicide prevention hotline saw a significant increase in calls from young people last year, particularly from those between 15 and 25 years old. In 2020, there were about 34,500 calls from youth to the hotline, compared to about 27,000 in 2019 — a 28% rise, according to data provided by the county.

"At the beginning of the pandemic we could still tell them, 'Hang in there. Eventually we will get out of this.' ... but now it seems endless," Suicide and Crisis Services Manager Lan Nguyen, who is often on the other end of the line with teens calling into the hotline, said in January. "They say, 'When is this going to go away? When will I be able to see my friends again? When can I go back to school? When is it going to end?' And unfortunately we can't answer that question for them."

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While local schools are slowly starting to reopen this spring, life for teenagers is still far from normal, and many of them are still grappling with the ripple effects of sheltering in place for a year.

Turning to advocacy

Riley Capuano, a junior at Los Altos High School, runs through her Los Altos neighborhood on March 9. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

As her high school's student school board representative, Capuano has assumed the role of spokesperson for her peers. She's consistently advocated for reopening campuses even as some of the adults in the room, including the president of the teachers union, have taken the opposite position. When the district lacked students' opinions on the prolonged shutdown, she and the Mountain View High School student board representative conducted their own survey on student engagement and mental health during distance learning. Of the roughly 270 students who responded, over 60% rated their motivation as lower during online school, though about 18% said the opposite — that they're more motivated with distance learning.

About 58% of students rated their current mental health at a one or a two on a scale of one to five, while about 20% of students said their mental health is better now than when they're attending school in person. Students reported both positive aspects of distance learning — waking up late, more independent work and "school from bed" — as well as the downsides, including too much screen time, difficulty paying attention and connecting with teachers, and "feeling cooped up at home."

Gunn High School senior Andrew Kim's personal struggles during the shutdown also spurred him to action. Kim is the vice president of Advocacy Through Art, a student-led nonprofit that uses art to raise awareness about issues like mental health and race. The group organized a webinar this month featuring health professionals and teens and are hosting artist workshops in May to give students an opportunity to express themselves — and destress — through art.

"We want to help lessen the stigma of youth mental health during the pandemic," said Emily Chan, a junior at Castilleja School and president of Advocacy Through Art. "We've been stuck at home with our family and we're using Zoom eight-plus hours a day. I feel like it's affected our outlook."

Before the coronavirus, Kim was an outgoing teenager. Social interactions — meeting up with friends, casual conversations in the hallways between classes and at lunch — were a given in his day-to-day life. Since last March, though, socializing has required more effort than he often can summon. Eventually, he said, he stopped reaching out to friends and withdrew.

"That left me in a pretty dark place personally. That's how it became pretty bad because at first I didn't — I'm not somebody who talks about my emotions a lot," he said. "It's so easy to get lost in yourself."

'We've been stuck at home with our family and we're using Zoom eight-plus hours a day. I feel like it's affected our outlook.'

-Emily Chan, junior, Castilleja School

While the barriers to reaching out for help ordinarily can feel high, several teens described this sense that seeking help has felt insurmountable during shelter in place.

"When you're talking to someone face to face in person you can tell how they're feeling ... but over Zoom or over text, you can't tell," said Mira Devgan, a junior at Menlo School. "Everybody is going through new things right now, but I think people are feeling really scared to reach out and admit it. For me, that's definitely been hard — not only to admit to other people that I'm struggling but to admit to myself I'm not in a good place right now."

Like Kim and Capuano, Devgan has also channeled her struggles into advocacy. She's on the youth board at SafeSpace, a youth mental health organization in Menlo Park. With SafeSpace, she helped to produce a film documenting teens' quarantine experiences and a podcast featuring student conversations about well-being.

Greater hardships

A Palo Alto High School student sits alone during lunch on campus on March 10. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Moana Kofotua's difficult pandemic journey landed her in the hospital.

When school moved online last spring, Moana Kofotua went from being a passing student to a failing one nearly overnight.

Then a sophomore at Menlo-Atherton High School, she had a hard time navigating Zoom. Without a computer and WiFi at home, she relied on a laptop and hotspot from the school, but the hotspot internet was patchy. She, too, lost motivation and focus. It was hard to get out of bed, much less participate in classes. An after-school support program that was helpful pre-pandemic just wasn't the same over Zoom.

"I couldn't function, going online," Kofotua said.

She didn't feel supported by her teachers, who contacted her only when she didn't turn in assignments. In December, she fell ill from anemia and was hospitalized. While there, she was also diagnosed with depression.

Kofotua doesn't feel comfortable talking about depression with her parents, both recent immigrants who don't understand mental health, she said.

"I had to go through it on my own," she said.

In February, Kofotua transferred to Redwood High School, a small continuation school where she's been able to attend classes in person. She feels more welcome there and has also found a support system at Youth United for Community Action (YUCA), a grassroots community organization for youth of color in East Palo Alto. Kofotua and her brother go to YUCA to do homework and participate in conversations around restorative justice.

"We've opened up the space for students who don't feel safe or comfortable at home and want to come and do homework here," YUCA Program Director Kenia Najar said. "We see the difference between them being on Zoom with us versus being in person."

The shutdown has been challenging for all teenagers but disproportionately so for those who lack the resources at home and, without being at school in person, are at risk of falling through the cracks. School closures have deepened the achievement gap -- many private schools reopened before public schools did.

"Educational inequities have the potential to translate into a lifelong barrier and a staggering number of life years lost," a group of UCSF health professionals wrote in an open letter in January calling for the reopening of schools. "School districts around the country are reporting higher rates of students failing classes, a phenomenon which has been disproportionately seen among low-income Latinx and African American children."

The coronavirus itself has also infected Hispanic persons to a greater magnitude, and the extra burden of caring for ill parents has fallen on local teenagers like Monica Reyes Lopez, a junior at Los Altos High School.

'We see the difference between them being on Zoom with us versus being in person.'

-Kenia Najar , program director, Youth United for Community Action

Over the holidays, both of her parents contracted the virus. Her father is a landscaper who continued working in person, and they think he may have been infected first. Her mother stopped going to her job as a housecleaner. Reyes Lopez's throat felt dry but she ignored it as she tried unsuccessfully to find testing appointments for her parents. Soon, she was sick, too — body aches, chills, fever.

Reyes Lopez recovered, but her mother's health worsened. Second semester started and her father went back to work, so Reyes Lopez had to balance school with taking care of her mother. She'd get up early, before her classes, to make her mother breakfast and bring her medicine. She'd put a mask on and crack open the door to check on her mother. She didn't tell any of her teachers what was going on at home, and only told one friend. She felt guilty and like she'd be blamed for getting infected.

When the anxiety and stress got to be too much, she'd go to the garage and break down. Reyes Lopez's room is next to her parents', and she didn't want them to hear her.

"There were moments where I felt very exhausted and stressed — especially because it was the start of the new year and I already went through a lot in 2020," said Reyes Lopez, a serious, first-generation student with high standards who became overwhelmed and anxious in the distance learning environment. "I just wanted a fresh start in 2021. I just wanted this year to be more peaceful for me."

Her mother eventually recovered. Reyes Lopez again feels productive and proud of her schoolwork, though her anxiety still ebbs and flows.

She knows her experience is just one of many among her peers, whose voices she feels like have gotten lost in the heated debates among adults over reopening schools.

"Being a high school student right is crazy. Each student has their own story and their own take on how they deal with the pandemic and distance learning," she said. "I think it's important that we hear them."

Mobilizing support for students

Palo Alto High School students eat lunch in socially distanced spots on campus on March 10. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Both schools and community organizations have taken steps to reach students and families who may be struggling during the pandemic. Both the Palo Alto and Sequoia Union school districts have contracted with Care Solace, a free, online service that helps connect people to local mental health services based on the issues with which they're struggling, insurance options and other criteria. (Palo Alto Unified families can access Care Solace here and Sequoia families, here.)

The Mountain View-Los Altos school district expanded its partnerships with mental health nonprofits, hired a new district social worker and launched a student support group with Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC). CHAC is also hosting a series of events in May for Mental Health Awareness Month, including panels on anxiety, self-care and parenting.

In San Mateo County, mental health nonprofit StarVista started new, affordable telehealth groups for middle and high school students struggling with social isolation. (To participate, call 650-355-8787 or email [email protected])

'Each student has their own story and their own take on how they deal with the pandemic and distance learning. I think it's important that we hear them.'

-Monica Reyes Lopez, junior, Los Altos High

Children's Health Council in Palo Alto, which has seen a 150% rise in calls during the pandemic, is already preparing for the next phase in teens' emotional recovery. The slow reopening of schools and the relaxation of public health restrictions, while positive, won't be a silver bullet for mental health challenges, Chief Clinical Officer Ramsey Khasho said. For some teenagers — especially those with social anxiety, who are on the spectrum or have been bullied at school — distance learning has been a respite.

"While we're excited about the reentry, we're also a little concerned that people are seeing this as a panacea for youth wellness," Khasho said. "In fact we feel like there's going to be a pretty jarring reentry and recalibration period that's going to impact kids."

The long-term effects of the pandemic on teens remain unknown, but experts' best guess at this point is that it will linger in trauma-like symptoms, Khasho said.

He anticipates mental health providers will see upticks in requests as schools reopen, both from students adjusting to campuses that don't function like they used to and from teachers and coaches who notice issues in kids they may have only interacted with online.

He encourages parents to reach out to CHC if they have any concerns. CHC requires no evaluation or commitment of the family to services.

To meet current and future demands, CHC is using a new $2.5 million grant from Jack Dorsey's COVID-19 relief initiative to hire more providers (CHC has already hired seven new clinicians in the last seven months) and to bolster financial aid and free counseling services provided in communities like East Palo Alto.

"Hopefully, what this pandemic has taught us, because none of us have gotten out of this unscathed, is to really focus on our wellness and mental health," Khasho said.

In distress over COVID-19? There is help.

Anyone who is experiencing depression or heightened anxiety because of the public health crisis can find help through local resources.

If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 immediately.

In Santa Clara County:

• 24/7 Behavioral Health Services Department Call Center: 800-704-0900.

• Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.

• 24/7 Suicide and Crisis Hotline: 855-278-4204.

In San Mateo County:

• Behavioral Health Services & Resources - 24/7 Access Call Center - Toll-free number: 800-686-0101 | For the hearing impaired: 800-943-2833.

For seniors, people with disabilities: The Institute on Aging has a Friendship Line for people ages 60 and older and adults with disabilities who feel isolated: 800-971-0016.

For youth: A list of local resources for young people who need mental health support, as well as their family and friends, can be found here.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

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Are the kids alright? Teens speak out about the emotional toll of a year in isolation

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Mar 12, 2021, 6:59 am

Editor's note: Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. More resources are listed at the bottom of this story.

Nine months into the global pandemic, Riley Capuano told a grid of faces on a Zoom screen why she and her peers needed schools to reopen.

"I've never seen this many students struggling with mental health," the Los Altos High School junior said during a virtual school board meeting on Dec. 14. "Being cooped up in your home all day is really, really tough. I'm a pretty happy kid usually but I've never struggled more than I have this year because of being fully online."

Capuano said she'd hit a low point last fall, just before Thanksgiving break. She felt lost. She stopped running, even though she loves cross country and hopes to compete in college. She was going to bed late for no reason.

"I felt like I was just tired of waiting for it to end. I lost all interest in any schoolwork. I didn't find any of it interesting," she said. "I was sick of just waking up, talking to my parents, doing school, being too lazy to run and then repeating (it all over again)."

Capuano didn't feel hopeless, she said, but like there just "wasn't anything good" on the horizon.

Capuano is one of a vast many local teenagers who have been feeling this way since their lives in the last year have mostly shrunk to the walls of their homes and computer screens. Normally motivated students have become withdrawn and disconnected, and parents and health experts have been increasingly concerned about youth well-being as the coronavirus pandemic has kept most local schools closed for months longer than anyone anticipated. Desperate parents have called into school board meetings, describing children of all ages who are listless and disengaged. In February, one Palo Alto parent told the school board her children are "empty, zombie-like shells of what they once were."

From April to October 2020, hospitals across the U.S. saw a 31% increase in the proportion of mental health emergency visits by youth ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Locally, Santa Clara County's suicide prevention hotline saw a significant increase in calls from young people last year, particularly from those between 15 and 25 years old. In 2020, there were about 34,500 calls from youth to the hotline, compared to about 27,000 in 2019 — a 28% rise, according to data provided by the county.

"At the beginning of the pandemic we could still tell them, 'Hang in there. Eventually we will get out of this.' ... but now it seems endless," Suicide and Crisis Services Manager Lan Nguyen, who is often on the other end of the line with teens calling into the hotline, said in January. "They say, 'When is this going to go away? When will I be able to see my friends again? When can I go back to school? When is it going to end?' And unfortunately we can't answer that question for them."

While local schools are slowly starting to reopen this spring, life for teenagers is still far from normal, and many of them are still grappling with the ripple effects of sheltering in place for a year.

As her high school's student school board representative, Capuano has assumed the role of spokesperson for her peers. She's consistently advocated for reopening campuses even as some of the adults in the room, including the president of the teachers union, have taken the opposite position. When the district lacked students' opinions on the prolonged shutdown, she and the Mountain View High School student board representative conducted their own survey on student engagement and mental health during distance learning. Of the roughly 270 students who responded, over 60% rated their motivation as lower during online school, though about 18% said the opposite — that they're more motivated with distance learning.

About 58% of students rated their current mental health at a one or a two on a scale of one to five, while about 20% of students said their mental health is better now than when they're attending school in person. Students reported both positive aspects of distance learning — waking up late, more independent work and "school from bed" — as well as the downsides, including too much screen time, difficulty paying attention and connecting with teachers, and "feeling cooped up at home."

Gunn High School senior Andrew Kim's personal struggles during the shutdown also spurred him to action. Kim is the vice president of Advocacy Through Art, a student-led nonprofit that uses art to raise awareness about issues like mental health and race. The group organized a webinar this month featuring health professionals and teens and are hosting artist workshops in May to give students an opportunity to express themselves — and destress — through art.

"We want to help lessen the stigma of youth mental health during the pandemic," said Emily Chan, a junior at Castilleja School and president of Advocacy Through Art. "We've been stuck at home with our family and we're using Zoom eight-plus hours a day. I feel like it's affected our outlook."

Before the coronavirus, Kim was an outgoing teenager. Social interactions — meeting up with friends, casual conversations in the hallways between classes and at lunch — were a given in his day-to-day life. Since last March, though, socializing has required more effort than he often can summon. Eventually, he said, he stopped reaching out to friends and withdrew.

"That left me in a pretty dark place personally. That's how it became pretty bad because at first I didn't — I'm not somebody who talks about my emotions a lot," he said. "It's so easy to get lost in yourself."

While the barriers to reaching out for help ordinarily can feel high, several teens described this sense that seeking help has felt insurmountable during shelter in place.

"When you're talking to someone face to face in person you can tell how they're feeling ... but over Zoom or over text, you can't tell," said Mira Devgan, a junior at Menlo School. "Everybody is going through new things right now, but I think people are feeling really scared to reach out and admit it. For me, that's definitely been hard — not only to admit to other people that I'm struggling but to admit to myself I'm not in a good place right now."

Like Kim and Capuano, Devgan has also channeled her struggles into advocacy. She's on the youth board at SafeSpace, a youth mental health organization in Menlo Park. With SafeSpace, she helped to produce a film documenting teens' quarantine experiences and a podcast featuring student conversations about well-being.

Moana Kofotua's difficult pandemic journey landed her in the hospital.

When school moved online last spring, Moana Kofotua went from being a passing student to a failing one nearly overnight.

Then a sophomore at Menlo-Atherton High School, she had a hard time navigating Zoom. Without a computer and WiFi at home, she relied on a laptop and hotspot from the school, but the hotspot internet was patchy. She, too, lost motivation and focus. It was hard to get out of bed, much less participate in classes. An after-school support program that was helpful pre-pandemic just wasn't the same over Zoom.

"I couldn't function, going online," Kofotua said.

She didn't feel supported by her teachers, who contacted her only when she didn't turn in assignments. In December, she fell ill from anemia and was hospitalized. While there, she was also diagnosed with depression.

Kofotua doesn't feel comfortable talking about depression with her parents, both recent immigrants who don't understand mental health, she said.

"I had to go through it on my own," she said.

In February, Kofotua transferred to Redwood High School, a small continuation school where she's been able to attend classes in person. She feels more welcome there and has also found a support system at Youth United for Community Action (YUCA), a grassroots community organization for youth of color in East Palo Alto. Kofotua and her brother go to YUCA to do homework and participate in conversations around restorative justice.

"We've opened up the space for students who don't feel safe or comfortable at home and want to come and do homework here," YUCA Program Director Kenia Najar said. "We see the difference between them being on Zoom with us versus being in person."

The shutdown has been challenging for all teenagers but disproportionately so for those who lack the resources at home and, without being at school in person, are at risk of falling through the cracks. School closures have deepened the achievement gap -- many private schools reopened before public schools did.

"Educational inequities have the potential to translate into a lifelong barrier and a staggering number of life years lost," a group of UCSF health professionals wrote in an open letter in January calling for the reopening of schools. "School districts around the country are reporting higher rates of students failing classes, a phenomenon which has been disproportionately seen among low-income Latinx and African American children."

The coronavirus itself has also infected Hispanic persons to a greater magnitude, and the extra burden of caring for ill parents has fallen on local teenagers like Monica Reyes Lopez, a junior at Los Altos High School.

Over the holidays, both of her parents contracted the virus. Her father is a landscaper who continued working in person, and they think he may have been infected first. Her mother stopped going to her job as a housecleaner. Reyes Lopez's throat felt dry but she ignored it as she tried unsuccessfully to find testing appointments for her parents. Soon, she was sick, too — body aches, chills, fever.

Reyes Lopez recovered, but her mother's health worsened. Second semester started and her father went back to work, so Reyes Lopez had to balance school with taking care of her mother. She'd get up early, before her classes, to make her mother breakfast and bring her medicine. She'd put a mask on and crack open the door to check on her mother. She didn't tell any of her teachers what was going on at home, and only told one friend. She felt guilty and like she'd be blamed for getting infected.

When the anxiety and stress got to be too much, she'd go to the garage and break down. Reyes Lopez's room is next to her parents', and she didn't want them to hear her.

"There were moments where I felt very exhausted and stressed — especially because it was the start of the new year and I already went through a lot in 2020," said Reyes Lopez, a serious, first-generation student with high standards who became overwhelmed and anxious in the distance learning environment. "I just wanted a fresh start in 2021. I just wanted this year to be more peaceful for me."

Her mother eventually recovered. Reyes Lopez again feels productive and proud of her schoolwork, though her anxiety still ebbs and flows.

She knows her experience is just one of many among her peers, whose voices she feels like have gotten lost in the heated debates among adults over reopening schools.

"Being a high school student right is crazy. Each student has their own story and their own take on how they deal with the pandemic and distance learning," she said. "I think it's important that we hear them."

Both schools and community organizations have taken steps to reach students and families who may be struggling during the pandemic. Both the Palo Alto and Sequoia Union school districts have contracted with Care Solace, a free, online service that helps connect people to local mental health services based on the issues with which they're struggling, insurance options and other criteria. (Palo Alto Unified families can access Care Solace here and Sequoia families, here.)

The Mountain View-Los Altos school district expanded its partnerships with mental health nonprofits, hired a new district social worker and launched a student support group with Community Health Awareness Council (CHAC). CHAC is also hosting a series of events in May for Mental Health Awareness Month, including panels on anxiety, self-care and parenting.

In San Mateo County, mental health nonprofit StarVista started new, affordable telehealth groups for middle and high school students struggling with social isolation. (To participate, call 650-355-8787 or email [email protected])

Children's Health Council in Palo Alto, which has seen a 150% rise in calls during the pandemic, is already preparing for the next phase in teens' emotional recovery. The slow reopening of schools and the relaxation of public health restrictions, while positive, won't be a silver bullet for mental health challenges, Chief Clinical Officer Ramsey Khasho said. For some teenagers — especially those with social anxiety, who are on the spectrum or have been bullied at school — distance learning has been a respite.

"While we're excited about the reentry, we're also a little concerned that people are seeing this as a panacea for youth wellness," Khasho said. "In fact we feel like there's going to be a pretty jarring reentry and recalibration period that's going to impact kids."

The long-term effects of the pandemic on teens remain unknown, but experts' best guess at this point is that it will linger in trauma-like symptoms, Khasho said.

He anticipates mental health providers will see upticks in requests as schools reopen, both from students adjusting to campuses that don't function like they used to and from teachers and coaches who notice issues in kids they may have only interacted with online.

He encourages parents to reach out to CHC if they have any concerns. CHC requires no evaluation or commitment of the family to services.

To meet current and future demands, CHC is using a new $2.5 million grant from Jack Dorsey's COVID-19 relief initiative to hire more providers (CHC has already hired seven new clinicians in the last seven months) and to bolster financial aid and free counseling services provided in communities like East Palo Alto.

"Hopefully, what this pandemic has taught us, because none of us have gotten out of this unscathed, is to really focus on our wellness and mental health," Khasho said.

Anyone who is experiencing depression or heightened anxiety because of the public health crisis can find help through local resources.

If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 immediately.

In Santa Clara County:

• 24/7 Behavioral Health Services Department Call Center: 800-704-0900.

• Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741.

• 24/7 Suicide and Crisis Hotline: 855-278-4204.

In San Mateo County:

• Behavioral Health Services & Resources - 24/7 Access Call Center - Toll-free number: 800-686-0101 | For the hearing impaired: 800-943-2833.

For seniors, people with disabilities: The Institute on Aging has a Friendship Line for people ages 60 and older and adults with disabilities who feel isolated: 800-971-0016.

For youth: A list of local resources for young people who need mental health support, as well as their family and friends, can be found here.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 12, 2021 at 8:25 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 8:25 am

This is important and thank you for covering it. We must recognize that isolation is not a norm and neither is masking and hiding our faces.

I think it is affecting baby development also. I recently heard about a baby born in the past year who has been isolated at home and interacted only with parents. This baby had to go to out for the first time (perhaps in weeks) for well baby check. The baby cried loudly when seeing the mother wear her mask, and then every person in the clinic who was wearing a mask. The baby was obviously very upset at not being able to see the mouths of everyone. This was obviously the stage where learning facial clues and copying them as part of their normal development. Babies learn so much in the first year of life and they are missing out on something that just may not be appropriate at a later stage. If these things are not learned at the right stage we have no idea of the consequences.

Our children, youth, are not guinea pigs in a laboratory experiment, but I feel sure that the consequences of this year of isolation and hiding facial expressions are going to be something that will come back to haunt society in time. Children growing up now have lost a larger percentage of their lives than adults and they are developing skills which will be part of their adult make up. These children are going to be the Covid generation and will be the leaders of the world in time. The Covid Generation have had to deal with more than the rest of us have ever had to experience, even during times of War, economic depression and other worldwide problems.

I think it is essential to give our children their lives back. It is important for all of us in society.


alicia puente
Registered user
Los Altos
on Mar 12, 2021 at 8:29 am
alicia puente, Los Altos
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 8:29 am

I concur with the above poster.

As in Texas, everything should be reopened with mask requirements stipulated only by the business proprietor or school district.

In other words...if apprehensive, don't go in or mingle about.

Simple as that.


Pat Lily
Registered user
Los Altos
on Mar 12, 2021 at 10:39 am
Pat Lily, Los Altos
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 10:39 am

Kudos to these teens for sharing how they and their peers are struggling with online learning. I've heard Riley speak at MVLA board meetings and her voice is often the only rationale one in the room. The trustees don't get it and are unwilling to push the superintendent and the union. It's just plain unacceptable that our public high schools are not open, when thousands of public high schools across the country have been fully open since September. Study after study has confirmed with the right safety precautions, spread at the schools can be contained. Our unions continue to create unsubstantiated fear within the teacher community, preventing our children from returning to the classroom. The long term mental health impacts (not to mention loss of learning) will be painfully felt for years to come. Get our kids back in the classroom.


New in Town
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:01 am
New in Town, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:01 am

Kudos to these brave students for sharing their stories. There are thousands of local students behind them who are struggling, too. Why this community and country has prioritized gyms , restaurants, and malls before schools is beyond me.

The #1 priority should be getting students back into classrooms, back into a routine, and back to having daily face-to-face communication with their peers.


MA midtown
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:14 am
MA midtown, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:14 am

As the Executive Director of Youth Community Service, I am thankful for the attention this article has brought to youth voices speaking out about the emotional toll of this year in isolation. Dr. Vivek Murthy, our new U.S. Surgeon General, believes that service can be the antidote for
loneliness. And Stanford Med School professor of Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Education, Dr.
Shashank Joshi, say, “During the COVID shutdown and shift to distance learning, young people
have an even greater need for connection, engagement, and purpose – the kind of support that
YCS staff and guided activities are so effective at providing.” Currently YCS is working with PAUSD youth, parents, educators and staff to organize school wide Service Days that extend service opportunities to all PAUSD middle and high schoolers. Having the opportunity to make an impact in the community has shown to reduce isolation and increase connectedness among peers and the community they serve.

The work of YCS through peer leaders in the Youth Connectedness Initiative (YCI) has focused on bring youth voices and solutions to improving protective factors for mental health and wellbeing. The YCI Peer Leaders have developed workshops and corresponding videos for parenting and youth serving adults with specific actions to directly impact improving youth/adult relationships. Thank you for highlighting the importance of listening to youth voices!


Martinimaas
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:38 am
Martinimaas, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:38 am

No the kids are not alright. They are not now. They were not a year ago, and because this experience can register as trauma, some kids will never be ok - even with all the therapy and assistance we can think of in the future. We did this to our children. Those who structured and supported the covid response that sacrificed the young for the hope of the old did this. It did not have to be this way, and if humans continue to use this type of response (sacrifice the young for the benefit of the post-reporductive old) to threats, we will at some point not have a future. To those who claim they could not see the effects this would have - you need to become more informed. The mind-body connection is very real. Statistically, the risks of almost ANY restrictive "precautions" will over time be shown to have more damage than this particular virus and its variants. Take a few steps back. Reconsider not what we think will "save" someone in this moment, but what encourages longevity. It's no secret that close physical and emotional contact with people has been identified as THE leading indicator in societies with standout longevity, followed by free access to natural physical activity outdoors. Why on earth would policymakers take that away? Why do we place our trust in "scientists" who actually thought that once this virus reached our shores we could STOP it? That's ridiculous, has never been done, and never will be. All 7 billion + people on earth will come into contact with covid. That appears certain. Can we move on to targeted offerings of protections to vulnerable people rather than mandated punatitive restrictions for all? And can we reconcile the fact that immunizing vulnerable people by no means constitutes "saving" them despite what words we use? A 90 year old is still 90 and has a significant statistical chance of not making it to 91. A lifetime smoker has a significantly reduced life expectancy. A shot in the arm does not "save" this person.


Alice Kaufman
Registered user
another community
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:49 am
Alice Kaufman, another community
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 11:49 am

My heart breaks at the thought of the anxiety, depression and hopelessness so many of these students feel. At the same time, I think we really need to pay attention to the statistic that was buried in the middle of this article: 20% of students surveyed said that their mental health is BETTER now during remote schooling than previously. 18% of students also said they were MORE MOTIVATED now than they were before. When schools do return to in-person, these students must not be ignored. Whatever reasons make them feel and perform better during a pandemic, schools must do everything they can to help those students continue to succeed. That 20% is just as much schools' responsibility as the other students.


Jon Keeling
Registered user
Community Center
on Mar 12, 2021 at 12:07 pm
Jon Keeling, Community Center
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 12:07 pm

This is an important topic for all parents, teachers and school administrators to think about and take seriously. I applaud Riley and the other students for speaking out.

As many in the community know, I am a teacher and active volunteer, mostly in the mental health space. I have taught over 5000 students in the local community and have run 1000+ hours of classes over Zoom in the past year. "Zoom fatigue" is real and many people are struggling, particularly kids, with the lack of physical interaction. Some students have seen their grades fall drastically this past year. But let's keep our priorities straight - a D in a class where the students is learning and in good health/spirits is FAR more valuable than an A where the student isn’t learning, has a negative attitude and emotional struggles.

Among my volunteer work, I spent over 300 hours responding to incoming texts on CrisisTextLine, where I helped people deal with a variety of issues. CTL is a great service and I urge everyone to memorize the number (741741); maybe you will never need it for yourself but giving it to someone else may help them get through the day…or save their life! I also participated in a total of nine ChallengeDays last school year at a variety of schools. In each, I stood up to explain to students that their parents want to help them but sometimes do not know exactly how to…Parents were once students, too. But some of the issues students these days are dealing with weren’t around when they were in school. Zoom classes? Cyberbullying? Please, students, give your parents a chance to TRY. And parents, if you want some help, reach out to others for support/guidance. I am available as a resource. I have done lots of parent coaching and have spoken with MANY students struggling with anxiety, depression and more. And I refuse to accept payment for providing this help. It just needs to fit into my (very busy) schedule.

And there is light at the end of the tunnel. We'll get there...together.


CalAveLocal
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 12, 2021 at 3:34 pm
CalAveLocal, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 3:34 pm

Thank you for raising the issue.
It is extremely important for kids to get the support they need. It is really sad that on top of sudden isolation they also ended up surrounded by adults (parents I mean) who also were dealing with an extremely unusual situation. But... I think kids will be ok. Humans are resilient, and little humans are even more so. We just need to make sure they are able to ask for help and help is there for them when they need it - and we need to make sure of that not just as individual parents or educators, but as a community as a whole.
@Bystander - there is absolutely no research that indicates that babies will have issues with development due to people wearing masks around them. And it has been researched. I don't know why that particular baby was distressed; but when mine was a baby, every time I wore one particular necklace he went into hysterics. Babies do things like that sometimes. Lets not use this as yet another reason to excuse people who selfishly refuse to wear masks in the pandemic.


Facts please!
Registered user
Green Acres
on Mar 12, 2021 at 4:12 pm
Facts please!, Green Acres
Registered user
on Mar 12, 2021 at 4:12 pm

Please reopen all schools, NOW, especially since the majority of PAUSD teachers are vaccinated. The toll is TOO BIG. My son is in 5th grade and the majority of his friends have spent hours each day in front of screens - either zoom calls or video games, because their parents are freaked out they would get sick with a virus that kills mostly the elderly. Let's take care of the elderly, the frail, the diabetic and let everyone else go back to normal, please!!


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2021 at 11:28 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 11:28 am

As for research with babies or children, this has not and could not be done in the past. Nobody is going to use children as guinea pigs for a laboratory experiment. Children have been isolated to various degrees for the past year and that is a first in history where it has happened as a result of a peacetime catastrophe. I suspect research is being done, but the results of that research will not be known until life returns to something like normal and the children have aged enough to quantify the evidence.

The only similar thing I can think of is the tv program done in the UK called 7 Up. It took a group of seven year olds back in the early 60s and watched them play both in a party setting and an adventure playground setting for one day. The group of children came from various backgrounds and their play was watched and they were interviewed. They were next brought together at age 14, then 21 and so on, interviewing them and seeing what had happened in their lives for the previous years. The mantra was "Give me a child at the age of 7 and I will show you the adult". The traits in their characters at age 7 were developed enough to enable their future characteristics. This group are now well into middle age and their experiences are still very much in line with the children they were at age 7. PBS generally shows this every now and then.

Until we see the Covid Generation of children enter middle age, we probably will have no idea what this past year has done to them developmentally.


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
on Mar 13, 2021 at 11:36 am
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 11:36 am
Jett Philby
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 13, 2021 at 1:15 pm
Jett Philby, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 1:15 pm
CalAveLocal
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Mar 13, 2021 at 1:21 pm
CalAveLocal, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 1:21 pm

@Bystander - there are many cultures in the world that routinely wear masks (think Korea and Japan) or cover their faces in full or partially (think very cold climate countries with routine balaclava wearing practices and hijab wearing countries). There is no suggestions that these practices do anything to the baby development. Again, please, lets not use this as an excuse for selfish behavior of not wearing masks in public. And also, I do understand that my sample is rather small and perhaps not really statistically significant, but the only complains about masks I have heard from children were about not liking a particular mask's pattern or color or whatever - basically the exact same complains as with clothes (ever heard a complaining child about their socks being too white? )


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 13, 2021 at 2:02 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 2:02 pm

The masks are only one aspect of isolation. Many young children are seeing no other people than parents or perhaps one or two other. That is not normal in any culture. This is particularly concerning for singletons (those without siblings). Many children are spending 95% of their time at home with very little outlets.

Seeing grandparents and other trusted adults without masks is not an excuse for "not wearing a mask". No idea where that comes from. Children can be excited into wearing a mask for a game, pretending they are the animal on the mask, etc. But children of all ages are still delighted to take the mask off when the game ends. Of course many cultures do and have always covered their faces outside - particularly women. That doesn't mean that the faces are covered in trusted groups inside.

Young children and babies learn socialization skills, facial expressions, etc. from copying. Of course that copying can be done from a parent or from a screen, but the bigger variety of sources the better. Young children also get stranger and separation syndromes and once again, the more people they see, the better.

I am not advocating disobeying rules. However, I do think that after a year of isolation young children are suffering and they are not in a position to even realize it themselves, let alone able to explain it.

Do we really want to experiment with young children? Do we really want to test the theory that they will be alright when none of us know what alright to a toddler really is? Nightmares, food battles, potty training battles, being scared of the dark, separation fears, seeing scary faces where there are no faces in things like designs on fabrics or shapes of the trees and bushes, are all common things for young children but not necessarily things we want them to have either. Most children prior to the past year have been able to experience a freedom that has now been lost to them. We need to bring back some of those freedoms.


The Real Slim K
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2021 at 2:24 pm
The Real Slim K, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 13, 2021 at 2:24 pm

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