The Pandemic’s Impact On Our Mental Health

By Sami Klink

Adolescence (10-19 years) is a transformative and formative period in a person’s life
during which they are subject to rapid growth both physically and mentally. This age range
accounts for a sixth of the world’s total population. Extreme social, emotional, and physical
changes, such as exposure to violence, poverty, or abuse, can make adolescents more
vulnerable to mental health disorders. Mental Health conditions compose over 16% of the
global burden of disease and injury in adolescents. An estimated 10-20% of adolescents
globally experience mental health conditions, yet these remain under diagnosed and
under treated. With the debarkation of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the
vicissitude of mental health rates, mainly prevalent amongst children from ages 10-19.

Mental Health in adolescents

Over time, we have seen a soaring increase in rates of all mental conditions. Rates of
depression and anxiety in teenagers have increased by over 70% over the last 25 years. In
comparison to the rates in 2014, according to the BCBS (Blue Cross Blue Shield) foundation,
data in 2017 shows a 31% increase in major depression, a 29% increase in hyperactivity,
as well as a 22% increase in type II diabetes. A 2016 survey conducted in the UK
for ParentZone, an online childcare application for parents, showed that 93% of teachers
reported seeing increased rates of mental illness amongst students and 90% reported it to
be a lot more severe. Studies have shown this to be due to a ‘multidimensional
perfectionism syndrome’ in which adolescents in this day and age are continually pursuing
a multitude of conditions defining perceived individual success. Such has emphasized and
resulted in a near-obsession with one’s self, including their self-worth and image, inducing
great stress in many teenager’s everyday lives. According to the United States National
Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 74% of adolescents reported stress to be the
leading cause of major depression and anxiety in 2017 with over 13% of children aged 12-
17 encountering a major depressive episode and over 28% reporting to have some anxiety
disorder or an anxiety attack that year. This survey has additionally shown that only
around 39% of these children have had access to a form of treatment, leaving over 60%
‘defenceless’. Further studies have proven to show that the average anxiety levels of
current’day adolescents are equal to those of psychiatric patients in the 1950s,
emphasizing the gravity of how grave, yet normalized mental health issues in the modern-
day are.

Effects of COVID-19 on teenagers

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is, without a doubt, one of the most complex
viruses to have ever ‘challenged’ humanity, bringing about a sense of fear and anxiety
around the world. Its global impact has led to both short and long term psycho-social and mental health implications for everyone. However, its impact is more prevalent in
adolescents and children. The spread of the recent COVID-19 pandemic concluded in
approximately 44,750,000 global cases resulting in over 1,150,000 deaths. Because the
adolescent brain is still undergoing growth and development, the prefrontal cortex, the
region of the brain responsible for impulse control and critical thinking is not yet fully
developed. Thus, these adolescents need additional support in terms of structure: including
but not limited to regulation of a sleeping schedule as well as the use and time spent on
electronic devices. As a result of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, many students lost the
structure of timing present in waking up early for school. Paired with a lack of support
from parents at home and a deregulated schedule, this led many students to navigate life
on their own, impacting familial relationships, work, and mental health. 
As a result of social distancing and lockdown, many adolescents found themselves more
alone than ever, losing consistent access to friends and any forms of adult support. A study
conducted by the Rox Institute in 2020 showed that around 80% of adolescent girls found
themselves “lonelier and more isolated than before”. This same survey showed that as a
result of the coronavirus, 72% of teenagers found themselves with an increased feeling of
isolation and depression. This increase in feelings of loneliness and depression in addition
to the decrease in healthy outlets to cope with these feelings have directly accredited to
increased stress and susceptibility to substance abuse disorders. Regarding past similar
instances, a BMC public report and a journal article from Psychological Medicine (p.35, 367-
376), wrote that students aged 14-18 years old were three times more likely to report
increased substance abuse. The students with reported increased substance abuse were
significantly more impaired in schoolwork with more impaired school behaviour and
worsened grades. Caring adults must stay actively engaged in supporting adolescents in
their life while providing some form of structure and supporting them in their life.

Solutions and Treatment

As the prevalence of mental health disorders increases exponentially in adolescents, we see
an increased need for a plan of action to cater to the psycho-social needs of adolescents,
especially with the significant impact of the novel COVID-19 toward society. We see, more
specifically, a need to ameliorate and these adolescents’ access to mental health treatment
and support services geared towards helping these teenagers develop healthy coping
mechanisms. In order to do so, mental health policies and interventions, with collaborative
networks of professionals and volunteers must be made for these vulnerable children and
adolescents during and post the current crisis. These programmes require a multilevel
approach, to reach teenagers, particularly, the most defenceless. It is also crucial that we
begin addressing the needs of adolescents with defined medical health conditions
concerning the United States Convention of the Child and other human rights instruments.
Such means avoiding institutionalization, over-medicalization, prioritizing
non-pharmacological approaches, while respecting the rights of these children in both high
and low-resourced environments.