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Washington 13-year-old: School closures have been ‘lonely and crushing’

(Seattle Public Schools, Facebook)

The mental health and the educational health of students has long been a major concern during the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures. A 13 year-old named Melanie Gabriel organized a group called Open Schools USA, and in her email to the Dori Monson Show, detailed the struggles that so many kids like her are dealing with.

Content warning: Interview includes topics of suicide and depression

She lived in Lake Oswego, Oregon, for much of the pandemic, and then her family moved to Vancouver, Washington. Remote learning has been very difficult for her.

“Especially with the whole moving to a new place and not really knowing anybody — my school, my teachers, having really no friends here definitely played a big part in that as well. And the fact that we’re online, it is almost impossible to make friends online. I cannot describe how hard it is to make friends online because you try and go into chat and be like, ‘Oh, hey, want to hang out or whatever?’ And the teachers are like, ‘Well, let’s not use the chat for off-topic things,'” she told the Dori Monson Show.

“It’s been so like lonely and draining and just crushing to just log on every day and black screens.”

While she wrote in her email to Dori that she understands some of the concerns with reopening schools, Gabriel says that school closures have created some serious mental health issues for her, even considering suicide at some points.

“At least for me, personally, I have diagnosed depression and I take medication for it because of mainly how affecting the online is, and how much work I have piled up, and how much I stress about that. For the most part, I just sit in bed all day on my iPad and I rarely get out of bed. I rarely go do anything, and it’s just horrible,” she said.

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“It’s gotten to that point, and I’ve talked to my mom about this, and for me, personally, it’s like: My teacher being afraid of getting COVID and dying is no different than my mom being afraid of me killing myself someday,” she said.

She says the problems that she and other kids have during the pandemic may not get noticed within the online learning model.

“My message to the teachers, for the ones that support the things that I’m doing, I thank you. And I appreciate you so much. You have no idea your words and your wishes that you send me mean everything,” she said. “But to the teachers who are on the other side of this argument, I want you to know that we’re struggling and you might not notice it.”

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“A lot of my teachers didn’t notice that I was struggling at all. I had to tell them that depression and all these things, they are invisible. They aren’t just what you learn in the book about how if you’re depressed, it’s very obvious. It’s not very obvious. It can be so invisible. And you have no idea.”

Gabriel’s Facebook page for Open Schools USA seeks to draw attention to the issue and help kids and parents stay involved.

“There are events we post, … I think we’re recently posted a organizer that you fill out that you send to your state representatives and senators to ask them to start a bill to get all schools open. And so we send out a lot of things on that page that are very engaging that everybody can kind of go on,” she said.

“And it’s for everyone; it’s for kids, for people in school and out of school,” she added. “And we are hosting an event on March 13th, which marks an entire year of being online.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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