Back to basics: supporting Year 12 students’ mental health during COVID-19 lockdowns

3 AUGUST 2021

Back to basics: supporting Year 12 students’ mental health during COVID-19 lockdowns

Let’s face it, COVID-19 lockdowns aren’t fun, and while everyone will respond to lockdowns in different ways, Year 12 students facing their HSC exams were already at increased risk for mental health issues.

Mr Brian Moore (pictured inset), Lecturer in Educational Psychology and Inclusive Education in the Charles Sturt University School of Education, said coping with stress and school- or study-related problems are the most common concerns reported by Australian adolescents.                     

How can we give greater parental support to our kids studying Year 12 while they ─ and we ─ are feeling the extra pressure of COVID-19 restrictions and, in some cases, lockdown?

It’s important to recognise there’s no standard psychological response that Year 12 students should have to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

Some Year 12 students might think that they should be responding in particular ways, for example, acting stoically and soldiering on despite not feeling great. Conversely, some Year 12 students are likely to be coping well.

The point is, there is no ‘normal’ response to COVID-19 restrictions and parents need to be careful making assumptions in this regard.

Nonetheless, given that the prevalence of mental illness rises sharply in later adolescence, parents should be conscious of different ways they might support their children during the pandemic.

Coping strategies for Year 12 students to perform at their best

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of basic things like sleep, diet and physical activity.

Adequate sleep is very important. Try to be routine with this, and with Year 12 students, we’re really talking about adult sleep patterns, so it’s important to aim for between seven to nine hours sleep each night.

  • Sleep is important for cognitive tasks like memory consolidation and poor sleep is associated with poor emotional regulation.
  • Avoid gaming and technology use before bed; it stimulates the brain and makes it harder to go to sleep.

Make sure that you maintain a good diet.

  • Eat well and stay hydrated.
  • Try to avoid study-related fast-food binges. While tempting, this probably won’t make you feel great.

Do some sort of physical activity every day. There’s a large body of research supporting the benefits of physical activity for mental health. For example,

  • Regular physical activity is positively associated with mental health and wellbeing.
  • Youth who have low physical activity have been found to have poorer cognitive functioning and academic achievement skills.

You’re less likely to develop mood or anxiety issues if you complete more than three hours of vigorous physical activity a week. You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete, but at the least try to get outside for a daily 30-minute walk.

What are the do’s and don’ts for parents?

Parents should try to encourage normal patterns and routines as much as possible (of course, this isn’t exactly easy during a lockdown).

Be careful assuming that there are problems, or that everything is OK.

Talk to your child. All the time. This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) always have to be in the context of their mental health. Having a positive relationship is important and beneficial for your household. It will also make more difficult or awkward conversations easier.

Normalise your child’s feelings. We can’t really control our feelings, but they can have a big impact on our thought processes. It’s OK to be feeling whatever it is their feeling (obviously there are some exceptions).

What are the things you can control? Feelings of control are important in terms of our self-concept, self-efficacy and motivation. Things like the basics (sleep, diet, physical activity) and study schedules.

While it’s increasingly being recognised that Year 12 isn’t the be all and end all (for example, many students enter tertiary education via alternative pathways), your child may perceive the situation regarding their study and COVID-19 very negatively.

You might be tempted to try and rationalise about this with them, but if you do, be very sensitive how you proceed. Saying things like “it’s not that serious” or “don’t worry about it” might not be received very well. It could be perceived as dismissing their feelings.

Talk about their options. There will be a tomorrow and we should look forward to this. We also shouldn’t stop planning and thinking about options just because things might be suspended at the moment due to COVID-19.

Remember to make time for relaxation and doing things you enjoy. Having fun is an effective way of dealing with stress. It provides a distraction and break from stressful situations.

Sometimes, you might have more serious concerns about your child’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour. Don’t hesitate to seek help and support about this.

Remember support services are available. You can contact schools for education and mental health support. This includes specialist services like school counsellors and psychologists.

While there are some differences across states and education institutions about how you can access school-based mental health support (for example, it might be done using telehealth services or phone-based contact), generally support is available. Contact your child’s school to find out more about how to access these services.

There are many other phone and online services available too ─ for example:

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800     

Lifeline 131 114    

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636

You can go to your GP for help, and in the case of emergencies remember to call 000.

The personal experience of being a parent with kids learning in lockdown

It’s important to realise that being a parent of children during COVID-19 is difficult.

My household has two adults with extensive education and psychology-related qualifications and 20 years of professional experience.

Especially during COVID-19 lockdowns, we’ve found the experience of supporting our children difficult, ranging across education and mental health support.

A big part of this is trying to support your children as best you can. Parents need to be kind to themselves.

It is important that parents and caregivers also remember to take care of their own mental health needs. It’s difficult to help others if you’re not doing well.

Many of the strategies regarding supporting Year 12 students are also relevant for parents’ self-care. Look after yourself and seek support if you need it.

If you’d like to connect with me please get in touch via email brmoore@csu.edu.au, or LinkedIn.


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Mr Brian Moore contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or news@csu.edu.au

Mr Moore is a research psychologist and co-chair of the Wellbeing and Mental Health Research Group at Charles Sturt University.


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