Sayra Raj, real name concealed for privacy concerns, said she had never felt loneliness before the pandemic. Spending time alone gave her flashbacks and nightmares; past trauma crept upon her and her thoughts often spiraled into darkness. As she struggled emotionally and mentally every day, her teachers piled upon increased work. In January, Sayra unsuccessfully attempted suicide.
During the pandemic, a surprising increase in teen depression and suicide rates occurred. According to a study of 1,500 teenagers in August 2020, over 50% of the teens reported struggles with anxiety, 43% with depression, and 45% with escalating stress.
For instance, Cassandra Leo, a sophomore at Quarry Lane School says, “My self-hatred and depression replaced the happy girl. I wake up and my first thought is ‘I hate you’… Students’ self-love depends on a single letter, especially during the lockdown. I don’t understand why the coronavirus is inducing an increasing dependence on grades.”
Similar to Leo, 36 of the 40 interviewees failed to explain the direct reason for feelings of sadness or depression. Due to a lack of understanding and knowledge, several students dismissed their negative emotions, rather than seeking help. Raising awareness regarding the factors of teen depression during the pandemic is extremely significant.
Dr. Shannon Harrison, a licensed therapist, identifies the absence of socialization as a root cause of the mental health crisis. She says, “Socialization provides support because teenagers tend to look to peers and outside resources. The lack of community and extracurriculars may prompt students to increasingly seek comfort and/or self-esteem from external accomplishments or grades.” Since the schools are online and distance-learning may be harder, students may perform poorly academically and have limited access to activities.
Furthermore, the coronavirus has escalated several contributors of teenage trauma; isolation, escalating domestic violence concerns, and the death of family members. Sadly, teenagers are unequipped with critical coping mechanisms. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, is not entirely developed until 25 years old, causing teenagers to require additional assistance from adults and friends. Thus, upon failing to maintain grades, engage in extracurricular activities, and attain support, adolescents develop anxiety and depression.
Helping children during the pandemic is vital to decreasing mental illness rates. Ekta Shah, a teacher at the Quarry Lane School and a graduate in Psychology from UC Riverside states, “All educators have a responsibility to talk about trauma and mental health. Provide easier grades and be more flexible. Reduce learning time. Check-in constantly and render time for social interaction.” Shah continues, “For parents, embrace your child’s individualism, educate yourself on teen depression symptoms and simply listen.”
Note: If you are feeling suicidal, thinking about hurting yourself, or are concerned that someone you know may be in danger of hurting himself or herself, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (1-800-273-8255).