For many young adults and adolescents, mental health has suffered since March 2020, when the world stopped. Mental illness insurance claims for American teens roughly doubled at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And one of the causes could be to feel “less close to friends and family due to isolation for long periods”, according to a study published in May. Virtual learning and the frustrations of the pandemic have also been linked to decreased mental health.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Elias Aboujaoude, MD ’98, MA ’98 wrote in an email that during the pandemic, several healthy outlets to deal with worsening mental health, such as the training, were suddenly out of bounds, or just more complicated. Restricted access to typical support systems and mental health treatments can also make matters worse, he added.
Aboujaoude wrote that personalities, socio-economic situations, and life-stage confusions were factors that could have affected adolescents’ response to the pandemic, noting that there was “great variability” in how adolescents and young adults managed the experience.
The pandemic also exacerbated the mental health problems of those who were already struggling. Steven Sust, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, said children from disadvantaged families often view school as a safe space and that losing access to this environment would have been expensive.
“It’s a disruption of the daily routine that went on before,” Sust said.
“Social isolation goes against our biology, and the most vulnerable people are adolescents and young adults,” said Antonio Hardan, director of the division of child psychiatry at Stanford. He adds that the lack of optimal socialization during this time could have effects to watch out for in the future.
So how can young people get back on track after more than a year of unprecedented stretches?
Sust said students should reflect on how their lives have been changed. Aboujaoude recommends personal reflection, mutual aid and in some cases psychotherapy.
“Expect awkwardness, confusion and ambivalence, and accept the lack of established etiquette and protocol,” Aboujaoude wrote. “Be kind to yourselves and to each other as we all navigate these uncharted waters.”
Hardan also notes that people should try to maintain some of the habits they have found beneficial during their 40s, such as going for walks and spending more time with family, as a source of comfort.
Additionally, people should be aware of not only how they are doing on their own, but also how other members of the community are feeling as the world begins to return to in-person lifestyles, according to Sust.
“Although it is a difficult time, I think it is important to recognize each other as well, that even if you were somehow physically isolated, you did not necessarily go through it alone,” he added. . “When you get to a point where you meet again, I think it’s important to really try to open up those spaces for a revival of the old normal.”