By: Ethan Hsiao
I’m not going to lie: these past few months have been a train wreck.
For many teens (including myself), life has come to a standstill. A new norm of binge watching, snacks, and naps has begun to cement itself and, with each day spent entirely in pajamas, our memories of morning classes fade further into obscurity. No school, no teachers, no work — in 2019, this would’ve seemed like a dream. Yet, living in that very dream for a little under half a year, it’s become painfully clear that our so-called bliss is only part of the story.
Every time we step out of our homes, whether it be in-person or virtually, we’re suffocated by the idea of an ongoing pandemic. Masks, guidelines, shutdowns, case numbers, news stories — these constant reminders only magnify the stress and anxiety that youth across the nation are already experiencing (1). As we know all too well, this quarantine has cost us a little more than just six feet. In an era of misinformation and stigma, that’s an issue we need to face head on.
While social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation, the reality is often the opposite (2). Away from friends and routines, a large majority of adolescents are experiencing intensified mental health issues; feelings of frustration, depression, hopelessness, and anger aren’t unusual, either (3). Confinement in the household only worsens these reactions, leaving a number of kids without any meaningful support or companionship (4). Eventually, this spirals into loneliness (5).
As Time Magazine best explains, “the health consequences of loneliness are often likened to the effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day” (6). Combined with the increased risk of dementia, depression, anxiety, self-harm, heart conditions, and substance abuse, the devastating impact of loneliness isn’t, by any means, hard to imagine. Even worse, however, is that there’s no surefire means of avoiding it. Anyone and everyone can be lonely (7).
Before the pandemic even occurred, around 79% of Gen Z reported to feeling lonely (6). Such a sentiment has only grown as events unfold, three-quarters of Gen Z now admitting that they feel even greater loneliness as a result of the coronavirus. Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers all confess to the same trend, an unnerving implication by nature. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that loneliness is a pervasive and destructive force. Most of all, it has the capability to degrade well-being and, in the worst instances, end lives (8).
Jacqueline Leighton, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Alberta, speaks upon that very concern: “What’s really dangerous is there are some kids who, in the pangs of loneliness, might not imagine a world where they don’t feel that way, or see the light at the end of the tunnel” (4). Health care professionals around the globe are extremely troubled by the risk of suicide during COVID-19, citing the rising levels of stress and social isolation as responsible (9). Youth lives across the nation will continue to be at risk unless something is done. Inevitably, the question soon becomes: is there a way to fight the effects of social isolation?
At its heart, quarantine has deprived teens of their ability to physically connect with others. Taking time out of your day to call or meet up with a friend can go a long way in combating any feelings of solitude (10). Whether it be a scheduled get-together or an impromptu FaceTime, there are still ways to engage socially while maintaining safety. Additionally, adolescents should work to regain some form of routine, without the external stressors that the pandemic has created.
Spending too much time online means that today’s youth are absorbing an excessive amount of COVID-related news (1). These triggers can result in massive stores of anxiety, especially if a regular sleep schedule isn’t being followed. By limiting the amount of screen time and setting reasonable expectations for sleep, teens can take control of their own well-being (11). In the end, that’s exactly what matters — the individual themself and how he or she personally copes.
A few minutes each day to focus on hobbies, exercise, and self-care can provide a healthy outlet when the usual school sports and late-night outings aren’t available (11). Unwind, read a book, meditate, or listen to music. No one knows you better than you.
As we reach the end of this post, allow yourself a second to breathe; remember that your mental well-being isn’t something to be ashamed of, nor is it meant to be hidden. Simply put, your health lies in your very own hands. Embrace it.
1) Pogored. “Is COVID-19 Affecting Your Teen's Mental Health?” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 22 June 2020, health.clevelandclinic.org/is-covid-19-affecting-your-teens-mental-health/.
2) Klein, Nadav. “Social Distancing Should Not Equal Social Isolation.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 4 Apr. 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-intuitive-scientist/202004/social-distancing-should-not-equal-social-isolation.
3) “Mental Health During COVID-19: Signs Your Teen May Need More Support.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/COVID-19/Pages/Signs-your-Teen-May-Need-More-Support.aspx.
4) McMaster, Geoff. “Why COVID-19 Loneliness Can Be Especially Hard on Teens.” Medical Xpress - Medical Research Advances and Health News, Medical Xpress, 4 May 2020, medicalxpress.com/news/2020-05-covid-loneliness-hard-teens.html.
5) Psychiatric Times, www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/mental-health-pandemic-state-route-social-isolation-loneliness.
6) Ducharme, Jamie. “COVID-19 Is Making America's Loneliness Epidemic Even Worse.” Time, Time, 8 May 2020, time.com/5833681/loneliness-covid-19/.
7) “Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 July 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
8) Gordon, Scott. “12-Year-Old's Death Was Result of Coronavirus Fallout, Father Says.” NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth, NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth, 26 May 2020, www.nbcdfw.com/news/coronavirus/12-year-olds-death-was-result-of-coronavirus-repercussions-father-says/2376678/.
9) Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/monitor/2020/06/covid-suicide.
10) “Social Isolation/ COVID-19.” Mental Health Minnesota, 17 May 2020, mentalhealthmn.org/support/social-isolation/.
11) “Shareable Resources on Coping with COVID-19.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/education-awareness/shareable-resources-on-coping-with-covid-19.shtml.