Students’ Stress Rose in 2020, Survey Finds

Burbank high schoolers and district employees felt more stress and anxiety in 2020 than in previous years, according to a survey presented during a Board of Education meeting last week.

John Paramo, Burbank Unified School District assistant superintendent of education services, unveiled the findings of a survey of 1,323 staff and students from Burbank and Burroughs high schools that was administered by Hanover Research between September and November. The number of participants was less than half compared to the previous year. 

Sixty-two percent of students rated their typical stress level as often or almost always present, and homework was the main source. They also reported feeling stress or anxiety preparing for college and careers. In the previous year, the figure was 53%; in 2017, it was 43%.

Distance learning certainly factored into the inflated numbers of 2020, with 93% of students reporting a mental health or social-emotional challenge stemming from not being in a classroom. Boredom and social isolation were the most common challenges for high schoolers.

Most students indicated that they view anxiety- and stress-related counseling and support services as most beneficial but do not seek them. Paramo said a consistently small percentage of students reports being likely to reach out to any of the school-provided services. In 2020, 65% of students said they were unlikely to seek help, a 1% uptick from the previous year.

The main barriers to accessing support were a lack of will, communication and knowledge.

Paramo expressed concern for students regarding their eventual return to normal, in-person instruction and said the district is working with the Family Service Agency to look at what mental health services “could look like in the upcoming year given the fact that kids have been in isolation for over a year.”

“Part of the plan is to increase the number of therapists to help with the demand that we’re expecting to see when our kids return,” he added.

The district is also working with the student governments of both high schools to determine the best way to reach out and connect with youth.

“They have so many wonderful ideas that I have not even thought of,” Paramo said. “We need to be in communication with [students] early and often as we start the new school year and to listen to their ideas because they will lead us to how to best communicate the services and how to get the word out so that kids will really feel more comfortable to use them.”

The idea of a hotline for students to report bullying or racism was mentioned, but Paramo said students are not likely to pick up a phone and talk.

“They would rather text or write out something,” Paramo said.

Board member Steve Ferguson agreed, but added that texting should not form the main line of communication.

“I do think this is a generational thing that we’re transitioning to, where most of our students want to engage via text message. They don’t want to talk to anyone over the phone,” Ferguson said. “If we could somehow hammer out or at least focus on hammering out what that pipeline looks like, though, and how we can expand it. … Sometimes counseling work can’t be done via text message. There’s only so much therapeutic work that can be done via text.”

Superintendent Matt Hill added that the district is also looking to provide more resources for employees in the upcoming academic year.