Living Through a Pandemic: COVID-19, Youth, and Mental Health

Difficult times call for difficult measures. But humanity, kindness, and beauty still prevail - so does hope.

The novel coronavirus has led to a massive crisis, with uncertainty looming in the air. As schools, universities and other institutions and services shut down, millions of workers in all industries are facing unprecedented challenges, particularly in finances but also in relationships with one another. In particular, deciding who gets to live takes a huge toll on healthcare workers, who are grossly overworked. Children across the globe are struggling to deal with lost time in their education but also face the repercussions of school closures that many rely on for free lunches or a safe place to stay. COVID-19’s quick spread has led to the disruption of life as we know it.

The pandemic season brings forth innumerable challenges for the youth. Whether it be the cancellation of graduation events such as proms, or delayed sessions and classes, or no more access to school lunches and someone to watch over them, students all over the globe have had to make difficult choices. Fourth-year medical students are volunteering to graduate early to join the fight against COVID; student nurses have also been on the frontline for weeks now. Hanna Nkulu, a rising college freshman from Phoenix, recounts, “Coronavirus has greatly impacted my last quarter of high school. I was really excited to make memories and be bold by asking a classmate out to our school prom and writing letters of gratitude to the teachers who have influenced me the most but I am unable to do so now. I don’t like doing online work, but I understand it’s for the best of society not to go back to school. I look forward to the day that I can meet with my friends again in person [sic] and hang out with them in public places.”

On March 26, a Californian teenager, whose death has been linked to coronavirus-related complications, was denied care from an urgent care center because he was uninsured. In India, Dalit children (belonging to the socially disadvantaged caste) were seen eating grass to keep their hunger at bay, during a nationwide lockdown. These pictures from around the globe beg an important question: is the world ready to pull out its youngest from this abysmal state? It’s a question we all must answer.

Isolation fatigue is hitting the best of us - simply because staying up at home isn't routine for most of us. Erica Chau of The Mighty writes, “I am tired ... anyone who has experienced (or is currently experiencing) depression will know, this isn’t abnormal. But what is surprising is that fatigue has come back into my life.” Staying under lockdown has exacerbated symptoms of those with past mental illnesses, and has made access to therapy difficult. A useful alternative is virtual therapy and mental health chat (find resources at the end!).

Isolating does not mean you need to be alone - there are creative ways to put the social in social distancing. Board games, puzzles, and app games such as Psych, Heads Up are common ways to relax. Although the lockdowns mean you may not be able to celebrate real-life events or go out to enjoy the sun, alternatives such as using your roof or garden for exercise, Skyping your friends or joining online communities and Netflix parties work, too. Social media platforms such as Youtube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, have also become platforms of support for those struggling with the quarantine. People of all age groups have resorted to showing up, instead of showing off. Ranging from quarantine art to coronavirus collabs, Gen Z, in particular, has come up with unique ways to spend time while isolating at home.

Every day, every hour comes with a new update. It is understandable that a lot of people are worried about it - in fact, it has a name: "Coronavirus anxiety." [1][2] Understandably, one of the reasons of a host of mental health issues is overexposure to the news 24/7. Social media plays a role in contributing to our inability to turn things off, especially our thoughts. It is important to label negative thoughts, and understand that one is capable enough to work through those thoughts and emerging more resilient. Social media distancing, thus, lies in restricting the incessant stream of information and updates. Digital detoxing goes a long way in lessening ‘the fear of missing out’ and managing a study-life balance in these troubling times.

A sudden crisis that has left little time to prepare for - is affecting all of us through trauma and loss - but has reminded us of our collective responsibility that will enable us to emerge stronger and resilient. What can we do to support each other at a time like this? Undoubtedly, a collective consciousness employing a social collective approach is needed.

At the personal level, too, there are multiple ways to deal with it. Practising mindfulness and prioritizing emotional hygiene are the key steps. It is important to acknowledge rather than act out - you can do this by recognizing and identifying difficult emotions everytime they appear. Reach out to your support systems - family, coworkers, neighbors - and speak about what’s bothering you.

Fill out quarantine emotion charts. Try out a new activity, or explore your hobbies. Bond with close ones, and most importantly, reconnect with yourself.  As always, seek help if required, without second thought. Consequently, be there, in solidarity and in support, for your near and dear ones.

With care and cooperation, we can bring this crisis under control!

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