By Amy Rogers
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Americans’ lives in so many ways it seems endless, with major observable changes including economic losses, quarantine, and the incorporation of Zoom.
These changes beg the question: How are people doing on a personal level with all of these extra stressors?
Studies have shown that the pandemic has had a significant negative impact on teens’ mental health in America.
A recent survey conducted by Mission Harbor Behavioral Health suggests lifestyle changes brought on by the pandemic are significantly impacting America’s teenage population. Out of 1,500 teens surveyed, 7 out of 10 reported that they were struggling with their mental health in some way, with over 50% grappling with anxiety, 43% with depression, and 45% feeling more stress than usual.
“I think the pandemic has been really tough on mental health because so many things changed so fast and we all have experienced losses,” Middle and Upper School Counselor Ms. Szmajda said.
“It was a huge change to go from being in school and everything feeling pretty regular to staying at home 24/7 learning on Zoom. Students experienced the loss of activities, the loss of in-person friendships, the loss of milestones like prom and graduation. Some families also experienced job losses or losing loved ones to COVID 19.”
Ms. Szmajda went on to add: “There has also been a lot of anxiety and uncertainty as we learn about this new virus and how to best keep ourselves and our family members safe. Then, pile on other things happening in the country like racial injustice and protests, and strong political feelings. It has been a rough couple of months.”
When asked about their mental health status amid the pandemic, several Upper School students say they have noticed negative effects on their emotional wellbeing.
“[During] this pandemic, I [experienced] serious depression and anxiety,” one student, whose name is being withheld to protect their identity, expressed. “I had [negative] thoughts that were so intense that I had to take [medication] that affected my art.
“[To cope], I have been sewing, and I find it very calming. I also had to go to therapy more frequently.”
Freshman Ava McEntire said she has noticed an impact on her mental health from the pandemic.
“I have been feeling depressed and having some anxiety and loneliness sometimes. I have felt these feelings before, but Covid has made the feelings come up more often. One of the coping strategies I use is listening to music. It gets my mind off things that upset or worry me.”
Sophomore Marco Natali-Rude, who has been attending classes virtually since last March, expressed his frustration with how people aren’t social distancing.
“The pandemic has made it impossible to talk face to face with friends and even family. I have hardly [been] outside in 8 months [in an attempt to not transmit the virus]. And then I look on Instagram, and see people within six feet of each other, without masks on, [or] big groups of people all together at parties, ignoring Covid restrictions, and it really [angers] me, since the virus will continue to spread if people do this.”
He noted, “To try to cope with this anger, I have begun meditating and listening to music that makes me feel good.”
A recent article published in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlights the burdensome impact the pandemic has had on the youth population. It explains how emergency-room social workers at Nemours/Alfred I. DuPont Hospital for Children in Delaware have noticed an increase in mental health-related visits compared to last year.
“What we’re seeing is that this time of uncertainty is hard for kids,” Karen Wohlheiter, a pediatric psychologist at Nemours, told the Inquirer. “It’s hard for them to picture things getting better and what that’s going to look like. That’s driving a lot of distress surrounding the pandemic, especially with isolation and loneliness.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently published new research revealing the pandemic’s negative impact on children and adolescents’ mental health.
The Inquirer article summarizes the study, saying, “Researchers found that the proportion of emergency department visits related to mental health were up 24% for children aged 5 to 11 and 31% for children aged 12 to 17 from April through October, compared with the same time period last year. The findings… add to existing research suggesting that COVID-19 has had a negative effect on children’s mental health.”
The factor of virtual learning may be a key concern when it comes to students’ mental health.
Ms. Szmajda believes in-person learning is much better for students’ mental health, saying, “I was so glad we were able to open our school doors in October to welcome students back to campus. I think learning in person has many benefits, including more connection with teachers and peers, which is good for our mental health (teachers included).”
“I know every family has to make the decision that is best for them, but I do worry about students who are virtual and feeling isolated. Everyone is different, so it works for some individuals, but I know that being around peers can be quite helpful in having good mental health.”
One senior who chose to remain anonymous also worries about the isolating nature of Zoom, stating, “After a while [of quarantine and social distancing], I was missing friends… with hybrid, I get to see people live and that keeps my spirits up. Without [hybrid, if we go virtual], I will be lonely and [my] spirits will start to go away gradually.”