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Mental health of teens suffering due to the pandemic

Youth experienced a unique set of challenges during the Covid pandemic.

As a result, there has been a rise in mental health issues for teens nationwide, with isolation and loss of their everyday routines compromising their emotional well-being.

Pandemic restrictions meant months of virtual school, less time with friends, and canceling activities like sports, graduation ceremonies and prom. This contributed to a dramatic increase in anxiety and depression among young people.

This level of disruption affected some of the most important developmental years for many teens' mental health.

Jose Ramirez is a 16-year-old teen who experienced loneliness, fell into a deep depression and found it too much to handle.

"I hated virtual school, and I felt a lack of motivation. It was hard to keep up with my studies, and it seemed like I was missing out on learning," said Ramirez. "I missed my friends and going out to have fun. My life felt meaningless."

Youth rely heavily on social connections for emotional support, and these adjustments have significantly affected their mental health.

More than 46% of parents say their teen has shown signs of new or worsening mental health conditions since the pandemic's start in March 2020, according to a study by C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll (Michigan Medicine).

"The pandemic hit teens hard. There was an increase in depressive episodes and serious thoughts of suicide," said Barb Solish, Director of Youth and Young Adult Initiatives at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Studies shed light on the mental health of U.S. high school students during the pandemic, including a disproportionate level of threats that some students experienced.

More than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the Covid pandemic, and 44% said they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year, based on research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mental health professionals stressed that there was an existing problem for youth, but with Covid, the dilemma has been exacerbated.

Dr. Seniora Mathews with Turning Point, a behavioral health advocacy organization, said youth mental health was already high on the radar.

"Due to Covid, now one in three youth is experiencing a mental health disorder," Dr. Mathews said.

Some teens developed severe anxiety symptoms.

Rosalinda Chavez, 14, said, "I felt nervous all the time and worried about my future not going to school like I was used to, scared that it would hurt my college goals."

Both Ramirez and Chavez are Latinos, pointing to their Spanish-speaking parents' confusion and lack of understanding.

"I didn't feel comfortable talking to them because I didn't want them to think I was crazy. I had no one to share what I was going through," said Chavez.

Maria de Los Angeles Community Worker with the Kern County of Dignity Health said mental health is stigmatized but more so for Latinos.

"There is a lack of education and resources for them, making it difficult for parents to get help for their children," said de Los Angeles.

She said they face disparities in both access to and quality of treatment.

"More than half of Hispanic youth ages 13-18 with serious mental illness may not receive treatment," said de Los Angeles.

Stigma can prevent someone from seeking relief.

"Many teens agonize in silence because they fear judgment," de Los Angeles said.

Parent Sonia Lopez said with the disruption of Covid, her 15-year-old son slept all day and stayed up all night.

"It was hard to motivate him since he did not have a normal life for a boy his age during the pandemic," Lopez said. "With time, he started to lose weight and any interest outside of video games or social media. His grades dropped dramatically," said Lopez

"Added to this, he lost his grandmother and uncle to Covid. That was particularly hard for him."

But experts are hopeful.

"I remain positive and feel that teens are extremely resilient. They can move past these challenging times with adequate resources and support and there is starting to be more awareness around the issue, which will be good for them," said Dr. Mathews.


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