Mental Health and Youth Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Since the COVID-19 pandemic raged in 2020, many parents have been shocked by their children’s escalating mental health struggles. But psychologists are on the front lines, educating families and improving services for kids.

Youth with mental illness can thrive when provided with support and resources. They can learn to recognize warning signs, seek help and find long-term recovery through treatment and other interventions.

Social Interactions

Social interaction is the exchange of information and resources that contribute to stabilizing society. It includes cooperation and competition, which are important for a healthy society.

People with stronger social connections are more resilient in the face of hardship and adversity. This is especially true of youth.

Those who have a hard time connecting with other people may benefit from joining a club or class where they can meet like-minded peers. For example, teens who are nervous about talking to strangers might be able to ease their anxiety by volunteering at a local animal shelter.

Passive social networks with a lack of communication can negatively impact friendship quality and family relationships, causing adverse emotions and having detrimental effects on adolescent mental health. Therefore, it is important to promote active online socialization and encourage healthy communication.

Healthy Relationships

Adolescence is a critical time when relationships can influence the rest of a person’s life. Unhealthy relationships that involve violence, sexual abuse and a lack of respect are serious concerns.

Educating adolescents about healthy relationships is one way to help them avoid unhealthy ones. This involves teaching them about the different aspects of healthy relationships and helping them learn to recognize red flags in their own relationships.

The specifics of what a healthy relationship looks like will vary according to individual needs. However, most healthy relationships include communication, sex and space and shared interests or values. Relationships should never be abusive or toxic and should always promote safety. They should also support a sense of self-respect and respect for others. These relationships can be with romantic partners, friends and family members.

Positive Self-Esteem

For teens, cultivating a healthy self-concept can be a struggle. It involves believing that you are worthy of good treatment and success. It also includes believing that you can withstand and recover from negative thoughts.

Teens can easily get bombarded with messages about how they should look, their abilities, and their accomplishments in comparison to others. This is especially true in a digital age where social comparison is rampant.

A positive self-concept has been found to correlate with less internalizing mental health problems in adolescents. This was demonstrated in a longitudinal study using self-report questionnaires of anxiety/depression symptoms and attention problems from clinical psychiatric sampled adolescents at baseline. These participants were reassessed 3 years later, and a high self-esteem score predicted lower levels of attention problems and depression/anxiety at follow up.

Learning Effective Coping Skills

Teens need to learn coping skills so that they can deal with the stress and difficult emotions that come up. When a teen can cope effectively, they will be better able to avoid risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use.

In one study, researchers explored the responses of young people when asked about their appraisals when considering a friend’s symptoms of poor mental health. The results show that young people fear possible isolation and stigma in their interactions with a peer who discloses mental health symptoms.

To help teens develop coping skills that will last, make sure to encourage them to reach out to trusted friends or family members. They should also consider reaching out to a mental health professional for additional support and guidance.

Healthy Eating

Most people intuit that diet, nutrition and exercise improve the health of the body. But researchers have been gathering a growing body of evidence that these same factors also impact mental health, through mechanisms such as the microbiota-gut-brain axis, epigenetics and hormone effects on stress and sleep.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to look a certain way and can accommodate many different palates, dietary restrictions and lifestyles. A general rule of thumb is to choose foods that are low in sodium and added sugars, while focusing on fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.

The most important part of this is having a food plan and sticking to it. This means having snacks that can be eaten on the go – such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and yogurt – and planning ahead when eating out or traveling so you have enough to avoid hunger and make healthy choices.