Youth mental health struggles in lockdown: Some comfort and advice for quarantine

Grace Goverman, News Editor

In a room newly reorganized for its volunteers to remain safe during a pandemic, young adults chat, text and talk to their peers from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the year. They are helping others get through some of their most difficult moments, from failing tests to having thoughts of suicidal ideation. “Helping other people has always been this really relaxing, peaceful thing for me to do because I feel like a lot of satisfaction out of it,” says Sanya, one such volunteer. She and the volunteers around her are working at YouthLine, a peer-to-peer crisis hotline. Like many crisis lines, the number of calls YouthLine receives has grown since the beginning of the pandemic. Booms in outreach have been seen in other crisis lines both nationwide and around the world. According to NPR, the Crisis Text Line has seen its calls grow by 40 percent since the beginning of lockdowns. The National Alliance on Mental Illness’ HelpLine saw a 65 percent  jump in calls from March 1 to April 30 compared to that time the previous year. 

Sanya explains how lockdown has been especially hard for youth. She said, “I would say a lot of people are feeling isolated, lonely, [and] there’s a lot of family situations, right? Like if you’re stuck at home and maybe you don’t have a good relationship with your family or you don’t feel safe, that can really…. impact your mental health a lot.” Researchers are also studying how youth are affected by the pandemic. A review of studies on youth mental health during COVID-19 concluded that although existing research is somewhat sparse in the middle of the crisis, “findings do point to an increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents.” In another review, researchers warned the consequences of isolation on youth mental health may linger in the long term as well, possibly for several years. 

She gives space for those needing support to reach out: “It’s never shameful… to ask for help. All of us are going through some level of a big life change right now; there’s a lot going on and people’s mental health is extremely important. Just like you would take care of your physical health, it’s extremely important and you’re very deserving of taking care of your mental health too… there’s all kinds of ways you can ask for help even if you think you’re stuck at home right now. And it’s really important to ask for that help if you need it. And we care about you. There are people in the world that really care about you.”

In addition to encouraging people to reach out for help if they need it, she also emphasized that open communication and boundaries are necessary for maintaining healthy, supportive relationships. “Sometimes, when I’ve been talking to a friend or someone who’s an acquaintance, and they needed help and I felt like I wasn’t the person to give them help—it’s totally okay to know your own boundaries when you’re someone helping people—sometimes I’d be helping them and maybe it was taking a toll on my own mental health, maybe I was just tired that day. There’s a lot of reasons why you can’t help someone, and there’s nothing you should be ashamed of for that, either. It’s important to take care of your own mental health when helping a friend, and so a lot of times I’ll just give them YouthLine’s number and I’ll say, ‘Right now in this moment I don’t think I can be the best support for you, but I know people who can be, and so you should reach out.’” 

YouthLine can be reached through calling at 877-968-8491, texting “teen2teen” to 839863, through online chatting options on their website, or by emailing [email protected]. They are available daily from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.