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With self-isolation normalized during the COVID-19 pandemic, students find themselves face-to-face with mental health problems that are amplifying.
Teenagers who live in America anxiously wait for life to go back to normal, however, normal for now, can be loneliness and closed doors.
That is how Maria feels. Her name has been changed for personal reasons, but her story is real.
“My friends and I can talk online about our feelings and stuff, but it is much better to see them in person,” said Maria.
Depression is an illness that causes one to feel negatively about how they feel, think, and act. Symptoms of depression include: loss of interest in activities which were once enjoyable, trouble sleeping, thoughts of death, and loss of energy.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), reports that nearly 3.2 million 12-17 year olds have had at least one major depressive episode in the last 12 months.
These numbers have severely increased due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the State of Mental Health in America, adolescents aged 11-17 who accessed a screening were nine percent higher than the average in 2019. Throughout the pandemic, this age group scored from moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Maria said that her depression was going on for a while, but it did not get serious until her freshman year.
She believes it comes with being in high school especially now that it is online.
The pressure to stay happy and focused as well as succeed in online school weighs her down.
“Grades matter so much. Especially because they rank us,” Maria said in frustration.
“I am not going to deny it, I am ranked high but I am not the highest,” she added.
The pressure is real, and she understands how difficult it is to feel successful when her depression enables her to focus on her failures rather than her successes.
At the beginning of the pandemic, it was fine because she was used to being lonely.
“But, as the pandemic and quarantine keeps going, I’m like ‘Oh my God, I need human interaction. I need someone,” said Maria.
One thing she does to cope with unusual feelings of loneliness and stress is to focus on something that distracts her from what’s hurting her inside like listening to music.
She believes that the hardest part about getting over something is asking for help.
Her advice to students afraid to ask for help is starting off small and talking to a friend, make music playlists for yourself, and self care.
“Begin to normalize that you don’t have to go through it alone. It is okay to ask for help,” she said.
Sarah Meastas, the school social worker at Godinez Fundamental High School (GFHS), said that since the pandemic began, she’s seen an increase in students coming forward to their teachers, counselors, and families, to seek help regarding their mental health.
Meastas thinks it is important to ask for help because, ”We all need support at some point. Sometimes things are too heavy for us to carry or deal with on our own.”
Meastas had roughly around 20-25 students a week when school was in-person instruction. She notes that in the beginning of the school year, numbers were capped at 10-15 students a week, but the numbers increase every week.
“When you physically got to go to school, that was your opportunity to have your own space and have some independence,” said Meastas.
Meastas believes that quarantine, social isolation, and social distancing guidelines, is the main factor of more and more students feeling anxious and depressed.
“With quarantine and social distancing, we are discouraged from seeing a lot of people and we are not able to do some of the things we used to enjoy doing,” added Meastas.
Through everything that students face, Meastas encourages students to reach out and ask for help, find creativity in their life, and try something new.
Like many other students, junior Diana (who did not want to give her last name) said that ever since quarantine started, her mental health has changed and worsened.
“I was finding it extremely difficult to get out of bed, get physically presentable, and attend school,” Diana said.
Diana said that it is unusual for her to have breakdowns, anxiety attacks, and hyperventilate because people only see a 4.0 GPA student who is “really smart.”
Anxiety is a reaction to stressful or unfamiliar situations. It can cause a sense of dread or distress before or after an important event.
Symptoms of anxiety include: hyperventilation, sweating, massive headaches, nausea, trembling, and various others. Anyone can experience anxiety to an extent, but people with an anxiety disorder report feeling far from normal.
Although Diana’s parents still have difficulty grasping what anxiety and depression is, she stressed that her family is very supportive.
Her mom is the first to calm her down when she has an anxiety attack. Her sister and dad are there to monitor her when she feels anxious.
In a society where mental health is stigmatized, these problems are very hard to seek help for and have conversations about.
Diana said, “We should all be educated into what mental illness is and how it affects others in order to break those stigmas and provide support because we need it.”
One thing that has helped her cope with her mental illness is attending Meastas’s virtual drop ins that take place every Friday during lunch.
Meastas chooses topics that are relevant to the time of the year.
In addition to that, Diana also sees a therapist two times a week, online and in-person.
“Therapy has really been helpful and feels the same whether it is in person or through a zoom call,” said Diana.
Through the help of her therapist, she is getting accustomed to letting herself free and acknowledging her feelings.
She wants people to know that having a mental illness is a common thing and you are not alone.
“I am proud of you because it is not an easy battle,” she added.
Our adviser’s brother-in-law, Dr. William Feuerborn, meets with a lot of patients who are suffering from depression and anxiety.
A licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist with practices in Irvine and Long Beach, said he always liked to help people and wanted to make the world a better place.
Feuerborn, got a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Cal State Fullerton, a master’s degree in Social Work from Cal State Long Beach, and a Doctorate degree in Social Work at the University of Tennessee.
Now more than ever, he suggests teenagers get out of the house and walk as well as find creative ways to be social even if that means virtually.
“Getting contact with the earth and seeing that the world is larger than your home can help,” said Feuerborn.
According to Feuerborn, being a teenager is an important stage of your life so it is sad to see many students suffer in silence. He advises to reach out, ask for help, and find where you need to go.
“Take mental health seriously. We are supposed to enjoy our life and it is not supposed to be unhappy or miserable. Find ways to bring joy to your heart,” added Feuerborn.
If you or someone you know are suffering from any mental health disorder reach out to them. A single text or phone call can brighten one’s day.
The pandemic has enabled us all to feel like we are alone, but the truth is: we are all managing through it in our own way.
“One advice I would give to anyone struggling is go to someone you can trust, but also do it when you are ready,” said Diana.
Reach out, help a friend, and remember to take care of yourself.
“You are not alone. It is important to ask for help. You don’t have to go through what you are going through alone,” said Meastas.