Graphic by Rigby Zentner
With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, today’s teens are being faced with an entirely new set of challenges. Emerging data has begun to confirm what teenagers all over the country already knew — the pandemic and its social isolation have thrust students into a worsening expanding mental health crisis.
The National Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline has seen a more than 1,000 percent increase in text messages this past April compared to the same time last year, increasing from 1,790 texts in 2019 to around 20,000 in 2020.
Remote learning and social distancing within the pandemic is causing an all new form of social isolation for teens. Everyone is being asked to limit contact as much as possible, to reduce exposure and limit the spread. This is an extremely essential practice right now to mitigate the risk of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it comes without consequences.
It’s widely accepted that isolation is a risk factor for anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other mental health issues. This is already being reflected in recent data; a May 2020 study of 1,500 teens commissioned by the National 4-H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll showed that seven out of ten teens are struggling with their mental health during the pandemic. Over 50 percent of teens reported struggling with anxiety, 43 percent dealt with depression, and 45 percent had felt more stress than usual.
With such clear evidence that teen mental health is decidedly suffering, the National Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) is all the more relevant. MIAW was established in 1990 by the National Alliance on Mental Illness with the purpose of educating and increasing awareness about mental illness. This year’s awareness campaign “You Are Not Alone” focused on fighting the stigma surrounding mental health by uplifting the voices and stories of people who have been affected.
In order to properly take care of one’s own mental health, it is essential to take even a small amount of personal time everyday doing something enjoyable, to relax and check in with themself. It’s all too easy to fall into harmful habits when it comes to neglecting self-care. However, things like maintaining a consistent daily schedule, taking screen time breaks throughout the school day, staying in touch with friends virtually, and integrating coping strategies you find beneficial into your daily life are all extremely helpful in retaining a sense of normalcy and comfort, to decrease stress whenever possible.
Most of all though, it is crucial teens remember to recognize that their feelings are always valid.As the National Mental Illness Awareness week emphasized, it is completely normal to be struggling during the pandemic and actually extremely common. No one is alone in their struggle, so make sure to show some self-compassion and take care of your mental health.