The Effects of Covid-19 on Teen Mental Health: from the perspective of a 17-year-old

 I think everyone would agree that the Covid-19 pandemic has flipped all of our worlds upside-down and had effects far beyond its obvious health risks. News channels and blogs everywhere are talking about how being stuck in lockdown has harmed the economy, shut down businesses, taken away gatherings, incomes, dating, concerts, and stadium sports games. Never before in our lifetimes has the whole globe – in unison - faced such a catastrophic inconvenience. Stuck at home for over a year and a half, endless conversations have taken place among the news anchors, parents, and business owners of the adult world. However, I have yet to see the perspective of a large portion of our global population. Although we aren’t the highest risk group when it comes to Covid-19 complications, worldwide there are 1.2 billion teenagers and we, of everyone, are being hit the hardest when it comes to mental health.

If you’re a parent, you may have already noticed a shift in your child’s mood and behaviours. Maybe they’re more stressed, irritable, anxious, or emotional. Maybe you’ve noticed they’re more isolated, showing changed weight or eating habits, sleep schedule, or lost interest in activities they used to enjoy. Every child reacts to stress differently and most teens and young adults often try to hide their struggles out of fear, shame, and not wanting to burden others. As young people, we have lost so many important aspects of our lives (such as sports, friends, graduations, proms, and friends). For some kids, those activities were really important outlets, coping strategies, and distractions from mental health struggles. For others, having to become isolated and face the losses of joy and purpose has created new struggles. I know this to be true for me. Covid intensified my own mental health struggles significantly, causing me to withdraw even more and need medical and psychological treatment that wasn’t necessarily available to me, because of the pandemic. Treatment waitlists doubled in length and doctors’ capabilities to see everyone who desperately needed help decreased significantly as hospitals filled up with people on ventilators. As the Gymnastics Club closed down, I lost my sport, life, as well as my coaching job. My exchange to Quebec and school trip to Spain were cancelled. My academics, which were a huge source of my purpose and pride, switched to virtual learning. I, like many other teenagers, was forced to grieve all of those losses.

We’ve already begun to see this impact statistically. Forty- six percent of parents have reported a decrease in their teen’s mental condition since the beginning of the pandemic. One in three girls and 1 out of every 5 boys have experienced new or worsening anxiety. A statement from McMaster Children’s Hospital reports youth in hospital after suicide attempts tripled and referrals to their Eating Disorders Program increased by 90% in only 4 months. Lockdown has meant for many struggling with eating disorders an increase in isolation, risk of over exercising, limited access to medical treatment, and loss of activities where teachers and coaches could notice a change in health. There’s also been reports of an increase in substance use, replacing the positive coping strategies lost and a drastic increase in adolescents admitted into hospital with symptoms of psychosis. All of these mental health changes are seen as a result of increased isolation, lack of structure, more family tension due to more time spent at home, less community support, and even stress related to the systematic racism widely broadcasted in current news.

So, your kid might be struggling a lot… What can you do? Well, first of all, talk to them. Invite them to share what’s going on in their lives and show them you know how hard this pandemic has been on them. One of the most important things you can do for your child’s mental health is provide them with a bit of normalcy. Plan fun family activities (Covid-safe of course) such as board game & movie nights, socially distanced visits with friends and family, and encourage and support them in virtual learning. I also believe it’s equally as important to give your teen space. With so much more time together at home, you need to make sure everyone has “breathing room”.

I would highly recommend getting supports for your child during this time, if possible. Having someone to talk to, such as a counsellor, is a great resource for any teenager. If any red flags come up with self harm, suicidal ideology, substance abuse, etc. please take it seriously and seek out professional support.

Lastly, let your teenager know you are there for them and normalize open conversation about mental health during the pandemic – there’s no shame in asking for help!

Author: Kaylie Owston