COVID-19 Effect on Teens: Increase in Depression Rates

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, October 4, 2020 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.


By: Princess Cyrile Butac
James Campbell High School, Class of 2022

Prior to the pandemic, the nation was already experiencing a youth mental health crisis. According to a nationwide study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of major depressive episodes increased from 12.8% to 15.7% in 12-17 year olds between 2016–2019. Moreover, as a result of the pandemic and social distancing measures, lack of social interaction has only exacerbated many of the existing mental health issues. New research shows that young adults are one of the few groups reporting an increase of mental health cases according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Crisis Text Line, a non-profit mental health texting service, states that its top three topics in conversations since the pandemic started are anxiety, depression, and relationships.

Social interaction is essential to one’s health. In an interview about her book iGen: Why Today’s Super- Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us, psychologist Jean Twenge stated, “Face-to-face social interaction tends to protect against depression in a way that digital interaction does not.” For many teens, socializing is an essential part of growing up; the need for strong relationships with peers is necessitated by the natural lessening of interactions with our parents as we grow older. The physical isolation from COVID has left teens feeling lonely and anxious, inducing a form of mental isolation in addition to the physical. The relationships teens normally develop eliminate negative emotions, providing a positive life impact. As Twenge mentions, virtual interaction doesn’t offer the same positive effects garnered by physical interaction.

However, students should be reminded
that, despite the physical isolation,
they are still a part of a significant
network of resources.

In order to alleviate the strain of increased virtual interaction, health experts recommend getting adequate rest, limiting screen time, relaxing, and speaking to others when you’re in need of help. However, for many students, adjusting to a new online focused routine and maintaining one’s mental health is a difficult balance to strike. Students are required to log onto virtual classrooms and remain online for 6-7 hours a day. Currently, the Hawaii Department of Education (HIDOE) is deciding whether or not schools should continue online for the rest of the term. The Child & Adolescent Mental Health Division (CAMHD) partnered with HIDOE to provide staff supporting student’s mental health, but as students we weren’t given specific instructions to contact them personally. Limiting the required log-in time and work is all students are asking for and is crucial to prevent the worsening of physical and mental health. Implementing these requests will keep teens safe and mentally healthy during distance learning.

With the stay-at-home orders, teens often stay indoors with their family with no proper way of reaching out for help. However, students should be reminded that, despite the physical isolation, they are still a part of a significant network of resources. The Child Mind Institute, a non-profit organization providing support for families with children suffering from mental illness and learning disabilities, recommends parents checkup on their children to let them know they have someone they can rely on at home. National depression hotlines like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and Samaritans offer 24/7 crisis services and help.

As a teen myself, I’m struggling to survive being isolated in my room on four hours of sleep, and usually rely on my friends to motivate me. Perhaps the most significant act is one that is most true to what it means to be a teen – reaching out to your peers and opening the door to a conversation.

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