Legislation may require the public to protect itself from COVID-19 with masks in public spaces, but teens are unprepared for a more pervading medical threat: mental health problems.
Up to 30% of high schoolers suffer from depression regularly, according to the Davenee Foundation. Recent COVID-19 lockdowns have caused 56% of Americans to experience new mental health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports.
That means that up to 56% more teens could be dealing with depression or anxiety right now, which evidently has a correlation with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social isolation, a fundamental aspect of sheltering in place, can help cause depression, according to Mayo Clinic. An increase in mental health issues could also be related to the economic hardships that families of non-essential workers are enduring. Data from professionals isn’t needed to reveal the obvious — being labeled “non-essential” in itself can elicit a decrease in self-esteem.
While media coverage of the COVID-19 crisis has been extensive, the new mental health crisis has received underwhelming consideration from both authorities and the press.
A simple search of the phrase “COVID-19 update” on Google reveals dozens of real-time pandemic trackers that offer data on the virus’ death rate and infection count. A search for the phrase “mental health during coronavirus” generates some tips for coping with stress and a few articles about mental health problems associated with social isolation. These resources are not nearly enough to help address the depression and anxiety sheltering in place helps cause.
Around 1.5 million people in the United States have contracted coronavirus, according to the CDC. Over 165 million Americans have depression or anxiety caused by current government lockdowns, according to the Kaiser study.
Media coverage of a crisis should be determined by how pervading that crisis is. Outlets that cover the virus should be paying more attention to the pervading mental health crisis and less attention to COVID-19.
More information from the media about the spike could specifically help teens, the most socially active demographic in the United States and the highest risk demographic for developing mental health problems during a lockdown.
Furthermore, if depression and anxiety related to coronavirus reactions are infecting 120 times as many people as the virus itself, we need to ask ourselves if the measures we are taking to manage the virus are doing more harm than good.
Only time will tell whether we took the proper measures in response to COVID-19, but there are at least two probable outcomes from our current approach. Maybe our lockdowns will be successful at managing the most infectious virus of the 21st century, or maybe they will create the worst mental health epidemic in American history.
Regardless of what happens, there are a few things that we can do to both prevent COVID-19 and manage mental health issues. Exercise and sleep help boost the immune system and improve individual well-being, according to WebMD. Similarly, hanging out with friends via virtual platforms like Zoom and FaceTime could decrease the spread of the virus and lessen the chances of feeling depressed.
Above all, simply being aware of both pandemics and their symptoms will allow all of us to stay safer, healthier and happier.