Voices of Youth: Addressing mental health concerns in Bay City schools

How much has COVID-19 changed your school experience? Or your career opportunities? Or maybe just your experience of life in general?

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected people all around the globe in many different ways. One of these ways is harder to see from the outside. Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, mental health crises have been steadily increasing. Especially for the world's younger generation. Students saw their entire worlds flip upside down two years ago; and they’re still not right-side up.
Bay City Central High School hired a counseling staff member to help students with everything from finding housing to getting an appointment for therapy.“Before COVID started, I would see a couple of students about one to two times a week regarding mental health issues,” Steven Syring, a counselor at Bay City Central High School explains. “Now, I’m working with multiple students daily to talk about their mental health.”

Up until two years ago, Syring’s job consisted of helping students plan for college, schedule classes, and prepare for life after high school. Now, just like school counselors all over the country, his day is spent with talking to students and assisting them with their mental health.

“What we have here at our disposal is a band aid. We have disinfectants, maybe some hand spray, but nothing that enough to ‘fix’ it,” Syring says.

“We do what we can to help. We do offer therapy, but it’s not in-depth therapy. It’s a totally different environment. I have a few things I can offer students to try and get them throughout the day. Like breathing exercises, visualization, mindfulness. But most students need more than that. There’s only so much you can do from behind a counselor's desk.”

With this in mind, Bay City Central has added to its support staff.

“First, out of the many people in our support staff, we have Mrs. Connie Geonow here in the counseling office. She's our community outreach person. She helps a lot when it comes to referring students for therapy,” Syring says.

When the pandemic began, every facet of life was affected.Genow’s job is to assist any BCC student, and that student’s family members with quite literally anything they need.

“I do everything!” Geonow says, with a smile on her face. “I can help with getting therapy, insurance, shelter, any type of basic need.”

She goes above and beyond for her students.

“I’m also making Easter baskets for a few families this weekend, and we got a student glasses recently. Whatever I can do to help,” Genow says. “No one gets turned away.”

The school also added Lindsey Boyd to its staff. “She's a graduate from Ferris (State) University and she has a degree in criminal justice. She was hired this year as a support staff person, helping students with credit recovery. She is also a person for students to lean on and bond with,” Syring says.

Boyd focuses on helping students get to the point where they need to be in order to graduate. Aside from helping students with credit recovery, she reaches out to students who are struggling.

“Kids definitely seemed to be more closed off than they were when I was in high school,” Boyd says. “Quarantine definitely had an affect on every student's social anxiety. Everyone is more isolated and it can be hard to get them to open up.”

Despite the efforts being made by our counseling staff, there’s still some areas that can be adjusted. The most concerning topic for students is the curriculum we’re shown. Our counselors spend their time working with students on bettering their mental health, and then we return to class and are asked to count calories and measure ourselves with measuring tape and a scale in front of the class.

For any student, I want you to know that you are not alone in this. You are not out on an island by yourself. Most, if not all, of your peers share your same anxiety over the rising COVID case numbers, school shooting threats, and college deadlines. It doesn't matter, you name it, someone else understands how you’re feeling.

For any teachers, counselors, or staff members, thank you for all that you have done and sacrificed for us, especially in the past two years. We see you and we appreciate you.

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