By Willa Flax of Thriveworks
Entering the new school year, whether grade school, high school, college, or beyond, one thing is certain, the trepidations surrounding the coronavirus are ever-present. Whether through friends and family members or school and (social) media coverage, it is hard to escape the daily and weekly updates surrounding COVID-19. For months now, we continue to endure a global pandemic, the likes of which have never been seen before. As a result, lives have changed. Going to the office for work or an internship, like going to school for class, has been modified to include remote access from home. Opportunities to interact with classmates, colleagues, and loved ones, have been altered to incorporate a virtual option that caters to those choosing to attend gatherings behind a safe and socially distanced screen. Perhaps due to the lack of human interaction, the multitude of changes that have impacted our day-to-day lives, or the uncertainty surrounding the gravity of the pandemic, one of the biggest resulting impacts has been the increase of anxiety and depression throughout society.
There has been ongoing research circulating the education world, including but not limited to mental health awareness, specifically focusing on child and adolescent levels of both anxiety and depression. A recent study attempted to address whether the pandemic has elevated anxiety and depression levels globally. In an analysis of over 80,000 children and adolescents, researchers concluded that the new approximate for anxiety is 25% and 20% for depression (Racine et al., 2021). These numbers have nearly doubled pre-pandemic levels, which comparatively, have been approximated at 8.5% for depression and 11.6% for anxiety. In addition, a national poll that asked nearly 1000 teenagers was published in March this year by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital through the University of Michigan, where researchers highlighted 3 of their key findings (Clark et al., 2021). Results suggest that approximately 75% of parents report that COVID-19 has adversely impacted their teen’s ability to interact with others. Secondly, since March 2020, nearly 33% of girls and 20% of boys surveyed have reported feelings of first-time or increasing bouts of anxiety. Lastly, roughly half of all parents have loosened familial restrictions to allow for an increase in their child’s social interaction with others. It is important to note that while the data referenced here is from a small sampling of studies, a lot of research is being conducted and analyzed, nationally and internationally, to understand the mental health implications that COVID-19 has and continues to have on our youth.
Now that we have discussed some of the research, let’s talk about the practical side of living in a covid world. Teenagers have been taken out of their social and academic contexts while experiencing hormonal changes (on physical, cognitive, and emotional levels), resulting in diminishing conditions since the onset of the pandemic (Gray, 2020). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend finding various pathways towards relaxation. Examples can include meditative exercises, deep breathing, and stretching (CDC, 2021) Moreover, recommendations suggest trying to find enjoyable extracurricular activities including, exercising, reading, and playing a video game (CDC, 2021). Spending time outside in the sun and fresh air can also be beneficial (Gray, 2020). Additionally, leading experts recommend maintaining a schedule that can include prioritizing time for homework, sleep, friends, and family, time for yourself, exercising, and meditative practices. While these may seem like basic recommendations, having consistent routines has been shown to help improve adolescent mental health (CDC, 2021; Clark et al., 2021, Gray, 2020; Riley et al., 2021), including but not limited to benefitting mood, stress, and relaxation levels (Riley et al., 2021).
Without question, changes are challenging at almost every age, especially when missing out on significant life events (Riley et al., 2021). When feeling down or lost (sentiments that can occur during periods of lockdown or significant routine changes resulting from the pandemic), it is advised to maintain open lines of communication (CDC, 2021; Clark et al., 2021; Drillinger, 2021, Gray, 2020; Riley et al., 2021) with a trusted individual. This includes friends, parents, or teachers, in addition to counselors, doctors, or therapists. It is important to note that while social media is a positive way to engage with others from a social distancing standpoint, too much of it can have negative implications (Riley et al., 2021) on mental health. Keep in mind that many people are experiencing similar feelings and emotions surrounding life during a pandemic. Having the ability to discuss your experiences of grief or trauma, happiness or sadness with additional support can help promote coping skills (Gray, 2020) and resiliency.
There are times where circumstances are unclear, and many are on the fence regarding seeking additional support. It can be hard to know what signs to look for when seeking additional support may be warranted. Based on an interview conducted through Stanford Children’s Hospital (Gray, 2020), there are several signs to recognize when identifying if something more serious may be going on. Pay attention to see if there are increases in irritability, annoyances, lashing out, avoidance of social circles and groups. Be mindful when determining if there are any increases or decreases in food consumption or sleep. Additionally, assess if there are any changes in the level of happiness or enjoyment taking place (Gray, 2020). If any of these are symptoms are detected, they may be indicators of depression, likely warranting a check-up with a pediatrician or general practitioner (Grey, 2020).
The COVID-19 pandemic has had and continues to have implications nationally and globally, across all ages and generations. No one knows for sure if remote learning and working options will continue to persist throughout the end of 2021 and into the upcoming year. With the coronavirus still lingering, periods of anxiety and depression can impact school and college-bound teenagers and young adults. Continue to encourage and continue using healthy habits, maintain a schedule or routine, and find constructive and productive outlets to decompress by expressing your thoughts and feelings. Utilizing these tools and techniques can work to ensure social, emotional, and physical well-being.
Benton, T. D., Boyd, R. B., & Njorge, W. N. (2021, August 9). Addressing the global crisis of child and adolescent mental health. Jamanetwork.Com. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2782801
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2021). For teens and young adults. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/stress-coping/teens-young-adults-support/index.html
Clark, S. C., Freed, G. F., Singer, D. S., Gebremariam, A. G., & Schultz, S. S. (2021, March 15). How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. Mott Poll. https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health
Drillinger, M. D. (2021). Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on teens’ mental health. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/impact-of-covid-19-lockdown-on-teens-mental-health
Gray, D. G. (2020). Teen mental health during pandemic. Stanford Children’s Health. https://healthier.stanfordchildrens.org/en/teen-mental-health-during-pandemic/
Racine, N. (2021). Global prevalence of depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during COVID-19: A. Www.Jamanetwork.Com. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2782796
Riley, H. R., Trout, P. T., & Ammer, J. A. (2021). A teenager’s guide to coping with the pandemic. School of Public Health University of Michigan. https://sph.umich.edu/pursuit/2021posts/a-teenagers-guide-to-coping-with-the-pandemic.html
About the Author: Willa Flax is a National Certified Counselor and a Licensed Professional Counselor in Connecticut. She has worked in education as a counselor for almost ten years. Willa enjoys her work in the classroom and private practice. Her focuses include school-related challenges and life transitions for teenagers, young adults, and adults. While she works in New York City, Willa lives in Stamford, Connecticut, with her Mini Goldendoodle, Piper. In her free time, Willa likes to travel and spend time with her family and friends. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology from New York University and her Master of Science in Counselor Education from the City University of New York’s Queen College. Willa is currently a doctoral candidate through the University of Southern California studying K-12 Educational Leadership with an emphasis on equity and diversity.