How the Pandemic Has Impacted Youth Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating not just in the physical sense, but the mental sense as well.

The words “March 2020” are ones that bring up a variety of emotions among individuals. Emotions that include anxiety, dread, uncertainty, and fear. In our society, no group was as impacted by these emotions as our youth.

The COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, and while the situation has vastly improved, the pandemic continues today. Now we have vaccines, treatments, and boosters to combat the virus, but in March 2020 we lacked all of these tools. We were fighting an invisible enemy in this virus and oftentimes, were coming up short.

Similarly, our youth fought an invisible enemy in the form of their mental health. COVID-19 exacerbated an already crippling epidemic of anxiety and depression among the young population. Prior to the pandemic, poor mental health rates were already relatively high among youth, with ten to twenty percent of individuals suffering from some form of mental illness.

After the onset of the pandemic, thirty-five percent more adolescents experienced some form of mental health struggle. Looking at these statistics, the ways in which the pandemic detrimentally impacted youth mental health is apparent.

Rising Youth Mental Health Illness Rates

Within this new generation, we have seen a deterioration of mental health even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to a number of factors, some of the largest being:

  • Social media
  • Greater awareness of mental health
  • Rising pressures of schooling
  • A contentious political/societal climate

The pandemic is now an additional factor that adds another layer of stress on top of everything already being dealt with.

A hand hovering below an illustration of the human brain.
Mental health among the youth population in recent years has steadily been worsening. Image courtesy of Discovery Mood & Anxiety Program.

The Effect of the Pandemic on Youth Mental Health Rates

The greatest strategy we had to combat COVID-19 for the first year of its existence was social distancing. While this was absolutely necessary in preventing the spread of this alarming and unfamiliar virus, it unfortunately brought about some negative consequences of its own.

One of the largest of these consequences being the negative impact on mental health for all, but especially youth.

Due to the nature of social distancing, isolation and the loneliness associated with isolation quickly became the new normal. This was especially devastating for adolescents because they are at a critical age in self and social development.

Their interactions at school, with their teachers and peers, are some of the most critical in shaping their present and future. Without this interaction to guide them, thirty-seven percent of high school aged kids suffered from mental health issues. That’s just the reported number, meanwhile the true number is likely even higher.

Additionally, along with the loss of school, many kids were unable to hang out with their friends or participate in extracurriculars due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. This brought about another challenge because without these constants in their life, many kids did not have an outlet in which they could healthily express their emotions.

This leads to suppressed emotions, which often manifest itself in mental health issues. On top of that, in order to cope with these pent-up emotions, many kids turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drugs.

The most staggering realization of all is the link between kids feeling connected to their school and suicide rates among adolescents. Due to school being mainly virtual during the pandemic, a mere forty-seven percent of youth felt connected to their school.

This translates to mental health when considering the fact that twelve percent of kids attempted suicide when they felt unconnected to their school. Compared to the six percent that attempted suicide when feeling connected to their school, this is incredibly alarming. Essentially, the suicide rate among youth doubled during the pandemic.

How To Cope

 A group of friends watching a sunset with their arms around one another.
Forming meaningful connections with others is one strategy to cope with mental health challenges. Image courtesy of Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri.

While the pandemic seems to be coming to a close, mental health is still a serious concern concerning our youth. Many kids continue to struggle without knowing what to do, or where to turn. That’s why we have listed some resources and coping strategies below.

Confide In Someone

The first step in confronting your struggles is to tell someone how you are feeling. Simply confiding in someone you care about and trust can make a world of difference. If you are ready, reaching out to a trusted adult, such as a family member or school guidance counselor, can help begin your healing process.

Find An Outlet

Another good way to cope with mental health concerns is to find an outlet in which to healthily channel your emotions into. This could be

  • Participating in your favorite hobby
  • Involving yourself in a sports team
  • Listening to music or creating music playlists
  • Creating art pieces

Seek Professional Help

Sometimes, things get too heavy to shoulder on our own. This is where seeking professional help may be the best option. This is a great option for everyone, even if they don’t feel like they struggle with their mental health.

No matter what is going on in your life, it is always a good idea to have a trained professional in which you can speak to. Mental health professionals are widely available nowadays, making it simpler than ever to seek help. A great resource for this is BetterHelp.

Bad Times Will Pass

We all struggle sometimes, and that is okay. Therefore, never feel ashamed of your struggles or be scared to reach out for help. You are not alone, chances are there is someone else out in the world, in fact probably multiple individuals, who are experiencing the same exact thing as you.

Bad times never last forever. Just hold on and keep fighting for a better tomorrow, and eventually it will arrive.

Elyse Endres
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