Teens Cope With Mental Health Crisis Brought on by COVID-19

COVID-19 has only been a part of daily life in North America since March, but the new normal has introduced new habits, with social distancing and masks becoming part of the daily ritual. With this present-day reality of a restricted social life, teens have not been immune to challenges.

Isolation, Depression, & Parents’ Response 

Being physically cut off from the world, alone in one’s bedroom, can lead to feelings of distress, anxiety, and depression. The long absence from school has taken its toll on teens, with many lacking person-to-person contact and instead turning to smartphones for companionship, which can lead to negative side effects. Seeing an influencer living a perfect life, or watching friends get together despite stay-at-home orders in place, can leave a young person feeling more alone than ever. According to research published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, “COVID-19 stress was related to more loneliness and more depression, especially for adolescents who spend more time on social media. Beyond COVID-19 stress, more time connecting to friends virtually during the pandemic was related to greater depression, but family time and schoolwork was related to less depression.” 

Adolescents are in an important developmental phase in their lives. According to an article from NPR: “There is a biological basis for young people’s need for socialization. Scientists say bonding isn’t a luxury; It’s critical for development.”  Teens must be raised in an optimal environment: when a vital piece of mental development gets taken away, an imbalance occurs, creating periods of stress and existential crisis. Young people need to be certain of their place in the world, with a strong sense of self. Furthermore, “…Super-extroverted, high-social-drive kids have been very affected by social isolation right from the beginning,” says Dr. Candida Fink, MD, in an interview with Psychiatry Advisor. In this case, teens are forced to adjust to a very abrupt change in their daily routine, which mostly consisted of being outgoing and spending time with friends.

Isolation is a risk for teens already suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.  Dr. Lisa Jacobs, a psychiatrist in Menlo Park, California, said to NPR in a July interview: “[Teenagers] are appropriately realizing that isolation is a risk for them as well — it’s a risk factor for depression, and depression is a risk factor for suicide. And 8% of American teens attempt suicide each year.” 

What can be done to alleviate this social conundrum? Experts agree that parents are the prime source of helping their kids brave this international crisis. It’s recommended to give teens a new sense of purpose within the confines of their home. Greater Good Magazine published a list of ideas that help parents in dealing with teens sheltering in place. They suggest, “Expect them to contribute to our household in meaningful ways; Allow them to manage themselves, their own schoolwork, and their other responsibilities without nagging or cajoling; Ask them to help us with our work to the extent that they can; Use non-controlling, non-directive language;  Acknowledge that all of this is so hard.” 

What You Can Do

If you can, let your parent or guardian take up the role of trusted confidant: having someone lend a caring ear or doing a mental health check-in helps release any negative thoughts or stress that may be weighing you down. Virtual connections (like playing an online game with friends or hosting a virtual movie night through Netflix Party or Disney+), can still yield some promising outcomes. Find comfort in helping others. Reconnect with nature. Physical activities are other ways to help ease symptoms of anxiety. According to research published in the Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, “A common recommendation among mental health professionals is to stay active, even while being isolated inside. Aside from enhancing immune system functioning, exercise is a widely accepted stress management tool.”

Most importantly, take care to reach out to friends and family members having a hard time adjusting to their current circumstances, and you might help yourself along the way. We know this won’t last forever; sit tight and stay strong.

To seek help when dealing with mental health issues, contact Teen Line or Kids Help Phone.

Read this article from the UN for further information on how teens can join the global response to the pandemic.

For answers to some basic questions on teens and mental health during the COVID-19 crisis, read Emotional Educator and Mindset Coach, Alison Foy’s Q&A.

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