A pandemic. Vaccines. Constant, relentless waves of sickness; constant, relentless waves of disinformation from the masses, and worse, those who are in power.
These have been just a few of the obstacles people have had to navigate the past two years, and that’s leaving out politics, lives lost, and incalculable collective trauma and financial hardship.
Adults have been at the forefront of each and every one of these discussions. After all, they are the most vulnerable to experiencing severe complications from COVID-19; it’s apparent why their safety must be addressed first. And as far as politics and disinformation and financial hardship go, adults are the ones in power, so adults are the ones to face the brunt of the challenge.
But in all this turmoil and chaos, while adults argue over masks and vaccine cards and try to protect their young children, there have been those left behind. Who am I talking about? Teens, of course.
When adults haven’t been working — or bickering —among themselves, their attention has been turned to all the other issues we as a society are facing. It’s understandable; people only have so much mental bandwidth. Stress tolerance only stretches so far. So, when it gets to the end of the day and a tired parent logs off Zoom or walks through the door and unmasks after a day of work, their teenager’s volatile emotions are the last thing on their mind.
But many adults don’t realize that their teenager’s mental struggles in the past few years aren’t normal; far from it, actually. There is a line between teenage angst and wide-scale emotional downturn. At the end of last year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an “Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health” that calls for “swift and coordinated response to this crisis as the nation continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit focusing on national health issues, “more than 25% of high school students reported worsened emotional and cognitive health; and more than 20% of parents with children ages 5-12 reported their children experienced worsened mental or emotional health.” KFF found that almost half of their LGBTQ respondents had considered self harm in the past two years. Due to lack of access to care, teens of color, KFF theorizes, have also seen wide-scale declines in mental and emotional well-being.
Even before the pandemic, teens struggled with depression and anxiety that worsened with each passing year according to JAMA Health Forum, and by “2018 and 2019, 7% of high school students (1.8 million) had depression and 13% (3.1 million) had anxiety.”
Despite these worrying statistics, however, not all teens have struggled, and many of those who have struggled have also found help or support from those closest to them. In fact, many teens have found themselves and their mental states changing for the better since the beginning of the pandemic. Mental health is never black-and-white. Every story is different — so, let’s take a look at what our VOXers have to say.
How is your mental health now compared to 2020?
“My mental health is a lot better now compared to 2020. I feel a lot more productive and satisfied with where I am in my life.” ~Christina, Georgia State University
“Definitely better but still rocky.” ~Jenne, Pebblebrook High School
“It has declined but not due to covid, more so due to the inclined stress of a high school junior wanting to pursue a post secondary education.” ~Sanjna, North Gwinnett High School
“My mental health is getting better especially compared to 2021. Not every day is easy, but I can definitely feel a difference in comparison to two years as I’ve been able to see my friends more often and figured out different strategies and such.” ~Jennie, The Lovett School
“It’s a lot better than 2020. I feel like I have less uncertainty and more confidence moving forward. I also feel more at peace with things I can’t control.” ~Belle, Duluth High School
“My mental health is actually a lot better due to attractions being open and school being in person. Social interaction was the main thing bringing my mental health down intensely; now that I am able to fully hang out with my friends and do things to the safest extent, my mental health has improved.” ~Brooklyn, The New School
How did you cope with the stress of the pandemic (virtual school, social distancing) two years ago compared to now? What has been your biggest struggle(s)?
“I dealt with the stress of the pandemic by taking time to myself whenever I needed it. I would also make sure to do more physical activities like going out for a walk.” ~Christina, Georgia State University
“By cooking oddly having steps and taking my time helps calms me down. Going out without a plan getting matcha and getting air is VIBE.” ~Jenne, Pebblebrook High School
“I was able to cope with this stress by taking more time to step back from my numerous extracurriculars and dedicate time to myself.” ~Sanjna, North Gwinnett High School
“Not going to lie, being virtual was the absolute worst for me. I’m such a social person and I love surrounding myself with other people, so to take away the ability to see my friends and especially my grandmother and be kinda on my own for a while hurt me pretty bad. I would facetime my friends and family but it just wasn’t the same and I ended just being alone in my thoughts a lot and overthinking my entire life for hours at a time, which would just make me really sad and made the loneliness and isolation of quarantine even more apparent. I’ve gotten much better since 2020 and i’ve been able to find support from my parents and such by finding different methods of maintaining my mental health. For me, something as simple as breathing exercises helped me so much just getting through small moments and just everyday in general. Music and Film have been the ultimate escape for me during these hard times and have given me a medium to find comfort in and just relax a bit.” ~Jennie, The Lovett School
“Two years ago, I mainly dealt with my problems by ignoring them. I learned that this is not the healthiest way to do anything, so now I try to let myself feel whatever I want to feel because I know it’s healthy. I thought that having negative feelings like sadness, anxiety, and anger only made my situation worse, but I had to remember that all I could do is just try to keep living and hope it gets better (and it did get better 🙂 )!” ~Belle, Duluth High School
“I personally don’t think I did cope? Everything I did 2 years ago when this started, I still do now. From watching Netflix, journaling and listening to music, you could call that “coping” but in all seriousness it was just the things I do in general. The only difference is that I was doing those things without leaving the house. The first two weeks of the pandemic, I definitely cried a bunch out of anxiety and fear of the unknown (which was completely valid). In addition to crying, I struggled with not being able to see friends and while that might not seem like a huge deal, I based a lot of my self worth and joy on being around my friends. I could not sit with myself long enough; having my friends around me made me feel better, so that was probably my biggest struggle.” ~Brooklyn, The New School
If you struggled with mental health over these past two years, did you feel supported? How can struggling teens find support during this time?
“I did feel supported during the last two years. I recommend that teens open up about their mental health problems to someone that they can trust.” ~Christina, Georgia State University
“It was tricky because I shut everything and everyone out…. Like this past couple weeks it was hard to start my first article due to it. I didn’t want to take my own advice. But having a support system where you can cry helps 100%.” ~Jenne, Pebblebrook High School
“Public schools need to do more whether it is mental health week, guest speakers to help talk about managing stress while being successful in school or psychologists and licensed therapists or psychiatrists in schools for free to help students who need help but are not financially able to.” ~Sanjna, North Gwinnett High School
“My friends and my parents were my ultimate source of support during these past two years, especially my friends. We would call and text each other almost everyday, which helped me feel a bit of normalcy in such chaos. My ultimate piece of advice for any teen who is struggling and looking for support is to find someone who you trust and feel like you can be honest with, whether that’s a friend or parent or another person close to you that you know can support you.” ~Jennie, The Lovett School
“I actually felt very supported during the time period transitioning between the pandemic and the “post-pandemic” periods where things began to open back up again. Even though interactions with other people were still very limited during this time, I realized that we all were experiencing the same thing at the same time. It sounds crazy, but I felt supported knowing that I wasn’t alone. I suggest seeking help and talking to peers! :)” ~Belle, Duluth High School
“I did feel supported! My sweet friends as well as my parents were there to support me and understood my anxiety around the chaos. In terms of finding support/support system, talk to the people that lift you up and give you joy!! Whether it’s your dog, your lizard, your parents, teacher, friend, whoever!! Find someone who brings you joy and talk to them. On the flip side, listen. If you’re sharing your fears of the unknown as well, listen to someone who might be feeling the same thing.” ~Brooklyn, The New School