Teen mental health in the age of COVID-19

Catherine Shelley Extension @ Your Service

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    A new survey shows that teen mental health has suffered from social distancing and the widespread uncertainty brought by the coronavirus outbreak. The survey, commissioned by National 4-H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll, reveals the majority of teens are experiencing mental health issues right now — and are often unsure of where to turn to for support.

    Seven out of 10 teens revealed they are struggling with mental health in this stressful climate, and 81% said they believe mental health is a significant issue for their peers nationwide. Many teens are experiencing or have experienced anxiety (55%), excessive stress (45%), and depression (43%). The survey, which assessed young people’s perceptions of mental health issues both in their communities and across the country, shows that 64% of teens think their generation will experience long-term mental health effects from the pandemic.

    The survey also reveals that teens feel pressure from outside forces to succeed in school and life. As schools shifted to online learning, 71% of the teens said schoolwork made them feel anxious or depressed. But rather than sharing their vulnerabilities with one another, approximately two-thirds of the teens said they felt pressure to keep their feelings to themselves, pretend to feel better so as not to worry anyone, or deal with their feelings on their own.

    Feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression may continue to rise as teens seek alternative ways to cope. Forty-five percent of respondents said they try to ignore their feelings or spend more time alone when mental health issues arise, and 46% say they turn to social media to learn about coping techniques. Between social media, schoolwork, and virtual gatherings, teens currently spend about 75% of their waking hours (9 hours a day) engaging with a screen, which may not make up for the real-world connections they have lost since early spring.

    The good news? Teens know mental health is a problem – and they have ideas for what needs to change. For example, over 80% of teens would like to see Americans talk more openly about mental health and 79% would like a safe space where people their age can have open conversations.

    In 4-H, we believe that youth mentorship programs can be invaluable to helping teens cope with stress, both now and in a post-COVID world. 4-H Healthy Living programs provide youth with a better understanding of how their choices can help themselves, their families, and their communities. With

    programs focused on issues such as substance abuse prevention and mental health, 4-H helps youth build a firm foundation that encourages good decision-making and strong interpersonal skills. Social-emotional health is the cornerstone to confident, caring young leaders who understand how to take care of themselves both mentally and physically, which is key to holistic well-being.

    Learn more about 4-H Healthy Living programs and download the 4-H Healthy Living Activity Guide (can be accessed at Richmond.ces.ncsu.edu) for activities that youth and teens can do at home to help them make healthy choices. This article was brought to you by the National 4-H Council and full research related to this topic is shared on 4-h.org.

    For more information, please contact 4-H Agent, Catherine Shelley at 910-997-8255.

    Catherine Shelley is the 4-H Agent for Richmond County Cooperative Extension.