OPINION: COVID-19’s impact on teen mental health is worse than we thought

Photo courtesy of Wokandapix.

It isn’t new knowledge that more teens in today’s society suffer from a culmination of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. With that being said, the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic has not only increased the number of teenagers facing mental illnesses and symptoms, but has also presented the lack of a response America has given to those struggling.  

In regards to the effects of COVID-19, Maria Elizabeth Loades, DClinPsy, a clinical tutor, conducted a study to establish what is already known about loneliness and how the current pandemic affects the outcomes of this alienation. 

Out of a total of 80 studies, 63 of them reported mental health issues in previously healthy children. These studies admitted that “social isolation and loneliness increased the risk of depression, and possibly anxiety [where the] duration of loneliness was more strongly correlated with mental health symptoms than intensity of loneliness.”

As someone who personally struggled with depression pre-pandemic, I can confirm Loades’ results that COVID-19 has made my pre-existing disorder worse. As a teen, we are programmed to desire human contact and interaction. Our hormones are heavily increased during this stage of our life making our feelings much more intense. It’s no wonder that our sense of loneliness and isolation feels like the end of the world. 

Mental health has been an immense issue in America for decades now. With the population of those struggling with mental issues severely increasing everyday, it is continuously becoming a more prominent issue. 

Despite this drastic increase in psychological disorders, schools across America have yet to issue a proper response to combat the repercussions of these difficult times. 

Providence Health and Services, a nonprofit Catholic health care system, expressed their findings on the ongoing mental health crisis of today.

“The mental health of nearly five million kids is neglected on a daily basis,” said the Providence Health team.

America’s mental health crisis is a culmination of many flawed fields. The inadequate education regarding mental disorders, a lack of resources to properly integrate a successful mental health treatment system, and scarce professionals who are specialized in aiding those who suffer from these mental issues are all detrimental factors…

Children and teens in America spend approximately 1,000 out of 6,000 waking hours each year at school. However, those 1,000 hours do not include any after school activities — clubs, sports, meetings with teachers, etc. Not to mention that those hours will only increase as one progresses through school. At this point, over 1/6 of the year for teenagers is spent at school. So, why do schools not take more initiative in aiding the ever-inclining issue of mental health?

To spend 1/6 of a year at school is already a tremendous amount of time spent on memorization, tests, and homework. Each of these factors contribute to some level of stress in teenagers. Now add in the stress of higher level classes or simply getting homework done on time for seven classes each and every day. Or better yet, let’s add in sport requirements, which not only take up a greater percentage of the teen’s day, but also requires them to maintain high grades in each of their classes. It’s obvious these factors create a significant amount of stress in teen lives. Stress mixed with the new psychological impact of social isolation due to a global pandemic is pernicious to a teens mental health.  

Let’s think pre-pandemic for a moment. Mental health was not something that was heavily noticed or worked on even just a few years ago. While there were many studies to help society understand what a mental illness was, there was very little being done to actively battle these mental disorders. 

A big influence in the lack of mental health awareness and aid was simply the stigma surrounding mental health. 

Eric Pedersen, an adjunct behavioral scientist at the nonprofit organization RAND, conducted research about stigma’s effect on mental disorders. 

According to Pedersen’s research, stigma is simply the general issue. The definitive concern is rather the fusion of perceived public stigma (the fear of being discriminated against) and personal stigma (the reflection of one’s own attitude regarding society’s beliefs) that really creates an issue in moving forward.

Pedersen’s research study showed that while perceived stigma is much more prominent compared to personal stigma, the “findings [ultimately] have implications for interventions and marketing programs to help change perceptions about mental health stigma [and] encourage utilization of services for young people.”

This study was completed back in 2014. It is now 2021; America is currently undergoing a horrendous pandemic, and teen mental health is at an all time low. Within that seven year time difference, very little action has been genuinely taken to combat the war of mental disorders. 

Teens all across this country are suffering the consequences regarding the lack of quality relief systems. 

The movement towards mental health awareness has definitely shifted in a positive direction thanks to this pandemic presenting the importance of it. Admittingly so, it is nowhere near the level of benefit that America’s teens are desperately seeking. 

Debora Marques de Miranda, an associate professor of pediatrics, held a research study in 2020 about this pandemic’s impact on children’s mental health. 

According to her studies, “some groups, like children, have more susceptibility to having long term consequences in mental health.”

The movement towards mental health awareness has definitely shifted in a positive direction thanks to this pandemic presenting the importance of it. Admittingly so, it is nowhere near the level of benefit that America’s teens are desperately seeking.

These vulnerable children are the future of America. Their mental health disorders should concern you. It should bother you. It should worry you. The future for America’s children is dim and bleak without a proper response to the issues at hand. Albeit, if society comes together and puts the work in, these issues can be resolved. 

Nothing will get better without your help. Protest against stigmas across your social media platforms. Discourage society’s current beliefs to create a trusted and safe environment for those who are suffering. Advocate for proper education and treatment materials for these children. Wear a mask when you go out to limit the spread of the virus. Stay six feet apart from others as much as possible. 

We need to limit the effects and length of this pandemic in order to defend American teens from the dangers of isolation.

This pandemic may have made it more difficult for us to work together on these demanding issues, but it’s certainly not impossible. 

Kaitlyn Riley is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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