Sophia, a 15-year-old teenager had gone back for a treatment session to help out with her social anxiety. After not going for a while due to the pandemic, she had noticed that there were a lot more teens at the office than usual.
“There were around 5 or 7 kids more, just in the office, than before the pandemic,” she says.
With the increase of youth dealing with stress and anxiety related issues, the counsellors and mental health workers at Vancouver Coastal Health are worried on what impact the pandemic will leave on newer generations.
In an interview with the Child and Youth Mental Health program administrator of Vancouver Coastal Health, she told 8forty that “The mental health of youth was starting to decline before the pandemic, but the pandemic was just enough to push everything downhill.”
Studies earlier this year by the European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry shows that over half of children and youth reported an alarming decline or sudden struggles and issues with their mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.
On the other hand, the pandemic brought changes that worked well for some. Youth who were already connected to mental health programs with pre-existing social anxiety and had trouble attending school due to it, were not bothered by the move to online learning, according to the administrator. It was like a temporary solution for their anxiety and troubles, she says.
However, the administrator tells 8forty, for some, that didn’t last long. As the school year went on, they developed several new forms of anxiety caused by being in a noisy household for so long, siblings interrupting, and parents arguing. Besides that, she says, they also never needed to interact with anyone. Overtime, in most kids and teens, mental health and health workers could see an impact from a lack of social interaction.
Kids and teens that were not involved in any services started having trouble from being away from friends, family and not being able to socialize in person. A sociologist at the University of Alberta, Lisa Stroschein, states that youth are more connected to people outside of their country, rather than in their own neighborhoods. They couldn’t attend activities they normally would, and many became very stressed as everything was shutting down.
Now, since school is back, and things are slowly returning to normal, some kids who were and were not in treatment are now both in treatment.
“Youth that were in programs before, are in therapy for anxiety related troubles with school back in session, family troubles, and some had developed a greater fear of germs and being around people. They have even more trouble going to school than before,” says the Child and Youth Mental Health program administrator.
“As for their anxiety, many youths have developed different forms, types and symptoms of anxiety which causes trouble interacting with others, staying away from family and friends and not being able to focus on class.”
Workers at the Vancouver Costal Health mental health office say that youth who were both in and not in treatment prior to the pandemic went in for treatment. Most of the youth that went in for treatment had developed fears and worries about possibly getting themselves or a loved one sick. Along with that, some weren’t used to talking with friends and classmates during the first few days, weeks, or even months, which made things even more difficult for them.
Some of the main types of therapy programs used to help are exposure therapy and family therapy.
In exposure therapy, they try to help people who have developed worry over germs and being outside. It involves activities such as touching a toilet seat and not washing their hands immediately, dropping a piece of popcorn and eating it, and touching jellybeans that someone else touched.
With family therapy, they help parents understand what they could change to make things easier and less stressful for their children, and the kids get help with their troubles at home, along with their anxiety.
Now, that there’s a huge increase of patients admitted to mental health programs. This has added a strain to the system as the counsellors, therapist and mental health workers are overwhelmed with both new and old people reaching out for help, Dr. Jo Ann Unger told Global News.
Now, as the pandemic continues for perhaps longer than many thought, the impacts on youth’s mental health can be expected to continue.
Image Credit: Lara Lee