Atlanta Teen Voices / all

Article and art by Andrew Mbow/Special to VOX ATL

Mental health today: the effects of isolation on a teen’s developing mind

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Teens are having the hardest time mentally in recent history. Teen mental health has been an issue of debate for nearly two decades now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any less necessary to discuss. Ever since the 2020 global outbreak of COVID-19, teens’ mental health and outlook have been negatively affected. A period where you are supposed to socialize, make friends, go out, and learn more about the world around you was instead replaced by a never-ending series of days that seemed like they may repeat forever. This is the silent pandemic: mental health issues in adolescents everywhere.

In the days of social media and technology, you would think we would be more connected now than in any other period in history. However, this is not the case. As social media evolves, we begin to distance ourselves from others physically. Social media constantly overstimulates the brain, making underlying disorders like ADHD and depression much worse. This is due to the speed and instant reward that texting and calling and FaceTiming one another over the phone grants us. 

We as humans are wired to do things that may give us a reward. Our brain’s form of a reward is a chemical called dopamine, which is excreted from the pituitary gland when the brain is expecting something good. This is normal; however, the instant gratification of social media alters the function of the pituitary gland, making it excrete dopamine at an unnatural rate. This is because people tend to talk about themselves more often over social media than in person. This helps release the dopamine and other happy chemicals throughout the brain and circulatory system. Therefore, many people may feel sad, anxious, or even depressed when their phone is not in their hand.

Another factor influencing the declining rate of mental stability in teenagers is the influence of the COVID-19 outbreak across the world. PBS News reports that the teen suicide rate per 100,000 since 2007 has almost doubled, as it has risen from seven deaths a year in 2007 all the way to 10.6 deaths a year in 2017, which is a 56% increase in just a decade. This is because being a teenager is a delicate point in one’s life, and even the slightest alteration can mean the difference. The friends and experiences that people have when they are 13-19 years old are critical. The virus, however, took many of these vital components away. As society acclimated to not physically interacting with the world and others around us, we lost our ability to form connections. This forces people to use technology to communicate, which, as previously stated, can be very damaging to one’s mental health.

Lastly, the influence that education and school can have on one’s well-being is often unaddressed. As technology and the world evolves, more educated people are needed in the workforce. This, in turn, leads to more competition among students to perform well in school. High rates of competition and colleges letting in fewer and fewer students creates a large mental toll on students. From prepandimic 2019 to 2021, college enrolment fell 9.2%.

Teenagers also have less time on their hands to do the things that they like doing, such as meeting up with friends and enjoying free time. This can create a metaphorical whirlwind that teens can fall into, as it seems like an endless cycle of work, school, and out-of-school responsibilities that must be fulfilled. This is a problem that many people, let alone teens, can fall into. 

Some students have stated that they feel “life was harder (than previous years),” like Ben Singer, a 10th grade student at North Springs High School said.

“Nothing [feels] right anymore,” said Ryan Zaparanuik, a sophomore and varsity baseball player at North Springs High School.

They both feel that life after the pandemic is different and doesn’t feel the same. This is a common feeling, as the temporary isolation makes people feel terrible. Being alone isn’t a good feeling, and during such an important time in one’s life, socialization is everything. 

Mental health is a big problem that not enough people talk about. However, mental health is an important issue to everyone, as everyone has hardships and problems they must deal with. This is not limited to a certain group of people, because everyone can lend a hand in helping others feel better. My mom always asks me the same question when I get home everyday — “Did you make a friend today?” — because friends are everything. This encouraged me to meet the friends I have today. These people have helped me get through tough times in my life, from my dog dying to me getting Type 1 Diabetes. I’ve learned to never be afraid to go out and meet people; making links is the most important thing you can do in life. Meeting even one good person can change your life.

Andrew Mbow is a 16-year-old student at North Springs High School who enjoys sports and photography.

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