2020 has been a year full of struggles to say the least and has undoubtedly affected everyone in one way or another. It’s easy to think that adolescents have it easy; some students’ schooling has drastically laid off, leaving more time for TikTok, Netflix, video games, etc. While their worlds have been turned upside down, practically overnight, these changes and overall dysregulation have caused spikes in depression, anxiety, stress, and drug and alcohol abuse in teenagers.
Since the start of lockdown, 50% of teens have started suffering from anxiety, 43% have experienced depression, 45% have felt more stressed than usual, and 61% have endured a substantial feeling of loneliness. Why have these mental health issues become so much more common over the last eight months? Teenagers have lost a lot of structure in their lives: school hours, sleeping patterns, overuse of technology, and socialization. Students are now responsible for managing their schoolwork from home, filled with distractions. Some student’s parents and guardians replace the roles of teachers, while others have begun to drastically lack parental guidance, due to essential jobs, or sickness.
Although technology is a huge part of everyday life, and kids can easily communicate with each other through their phones, teens are missing out on basic socialization, and the importance of in-person interactions. Adolescent relationships can be stressful, but they are necessary in order to form personal identity and social skills. Teens also rely heavily on their friendships for understanding and support. The outbreak of Coronavirus has resulted in the ban of large gatherings, making it difficult for people to get together while following guidelines. This leads us to the fact that teens are missing out on events that are essential to the high school experience, such as, sports seasons, school clubs, prom, graduation, school plays, etc. These are all things that students typically look forward to throughout the school year. Now, many students feel that their days and weeks are repetitive: wake up, get online, go to bed, repeat, leaving them without inspiration.
Teens have also lost many of their outlets for stress, such as sports seasons and clubs, since they have been cut short or cancelled. These have always been ways for teens, or anyone, to cope with their emotions. Exercise from sports releases endorphins into the brain which act as natural painkillers, increase sleep, and bring out feelings of happiness and well-being. Clubs and other activities are ways for people to express themselves, such as art, music, writing, cooking, etc. Teens are still able to practice these things, but without it being structured, they may lose interest and motivation in doing them, stripping them of a creative outlet.
Without ways to cope with emotions, through sports, art or friends, many teenagers began to feel lonely and depressed. During quarantine, people described themselves as “isolated” and “despondent”. Many also began to feel anxious about their family members, friends, and themselves contracting Coronavirus, and the health issues that would generate. Teens also worried about financial strain on their households, leading them to balance schoolwork and taking care of their homes while parents tried to bring in income. All of these factors led to students falling behind in schoolwork, having no motivation, and overall distress.
Some ways that teens deal with their emotions are drugs and alcohol, which isn’t healthy, especially since the prefrontal cortex is still maturing, and this can cause damage to its development. Teens who used drugs and alcohol before the pandemic were more likely to continue to use and create worse habits. Teens also leaned towards hurting themselves as a way of relief. The proportion of children’s emergency room visits related to mental health has increased significantly and calls to suicide hotlines have increased by 47% during the pandemic.
Teen mental health is a very serious problem today, and not something anyone should be ashamed of. It can oftentimes be overlooked, so it’s important to pay attention to your own emotions, and handle them healthily, by reaching out to someone or practicing safe coping mechanisms, and also looking out for others. Some symptoms of depression and anxiety in teens are behavioral changes and emotional changes, such as, loss of energy, unregular sleeping patterns, changes in appetite, slowed thinking, low self-esteem, feelings of sadness and frustration, and more on (Teen depression – Symptoms and causes).
Some healthy ways to deal with stress are to exercise and get active: running, yoga, etc. It’s important to give yourself a break sometimes, and to practice consistent sleeping patterns. Meditation is also a good way to handle stress. Find more on (Tips for Coping with Stress|Publications|Violence Prevention|Injury Center).
Sources for more information:
How COVID-19 Is Affecting Teens’ Mental Health | Council on Recovery
Teens in Covid Isolation: ‘I Felt Like I Was Suffocating’