With+closures+and+social+distancing%2C+concerns+for+mental+health+are+voiced.+%22People+are+becoming%2C+maybe+more+lonely%2C+and+it%27s+giving+people+who+maybe+already+had+a+mental+health+concern+more+time+to+either+practice+coping+skills+and+improve+or+more+time+to+think+by+themselves%2C+and+that%27s+typically+when+thoughts+tend+to+spiral+downwards%2C%22+social+worker+Danielle+Armstrong+said.

Photo illustration by Stuti Gupta

With closures and social distancing, concerns for mental health are voiced. “People are becoming, maybe more lonely, and it’s giving people who maybe already had a mental health concern more time to either practice coping skills and improve or more time to think by themselves, and that’s typically when thoughts tend to spiral downwards,” social worker Danielle Armstrong said.

Unmasking mental health during the pandemic

June 26, 2020

COVID-19 is not the only health issue we face in the midst of this pandemic.

As schools and stores closed with many left jobless, the concern for mental health rises in the background.

Mental health during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic presents many mental health concerns, introducing fear and anxiety over the unknowns about COVID-19 and its effect on life. In adolescents, causes of this change in mental health include fluctuating financial and family situations as the unemployment rate in the United States rises to 13.3 percent. With social distancing and closures, many may feel lonely and distraught because they lack a schedule, routine social interactions, and in-person mental health coping mechanisms. However, school closures may also relieve stress faced during the school year and alleviate the fears of those with social anxiety.

The investigators found young people were as much as 3 times more likely to develop depression in the future due to social isolation, with the impact of loneliness on mental health lasting up to 9 years later.”

— Kenny Walter

Trends in depression by demographic

While much data is yet to be uncovered for more recent years in regards to adolescents, a study done by the “Journal of Abnormal Psychology” highlights the trend in percent of people having experienced any five of the nine Major Depressive Episode (MDE) symptoms. This percentage increased steadily for the age ranges 12 to 17 and 18 to 25 from 2011 to 2017. In contrast, ranges 26 to 49 and 50 to 64 have respectively remained constant or slightly decreased; both show little to no variation and lie under the average reference line. Because age ranges 12 to 17 and 18 to 25 are shown to be comparatively more vulnerable to depression, they may also be more vulnerable to extensive depression or anxiety symptoms during the pandemic.

Trends in anxiety and depression during the pandemic

Of the demographics provided in the horizontal bar graph for each group, subgroups “18-29”, “Less than a high school diploma”, “female”, and “Non-hispanic, other races and multiple races” comparatively had the highest percentages of people reporting indicators of anxiety and depression. 

Although these measurements only include ages over 18, it provides a foundation for the effect of the pandemic on mental health from which inferences pertaining to adolescents can be formulated. Additionally, because of the similar increasing trends in depression from 2009-2017 for ages 12 to 17 and 18 to 25 displayed in the “Major depressive episodes per year by age” line graph, the high percentage for 18 to 29 in the “Symptoms of anxiety and depression by demographic” may indicate that the age range 12 to 17 would show similar – or even greater – rates during the pandemic. 

Trends in loneliness by generation during the pandemic

In terms of loneliness felt because of the pandemic, “sometimes feeling more lonely” has the greatest percent average over the generations when comparing the three options, illustrating that most people have felt lonely more than one time during quarantine.

Though changes in financial and social situations, schedule patterns, and deteriorating health conditions contribute to decreases in mental health, social anxiety also plays a part both positively and negatively. Results corresponding to “relieved not having to socialize”, “more anxious because of the coronavirus”, and “worry about going back into society” were also similar across generations. More anxiety because of the coronavirus, however, had the highest average, implying more anxiety over the pandemic rather than less. Again, while Gen-Z only includes age 18-23 in this instance, because Gen-Z is normally inclusive of those born between 1995 to 2015, similar rates reported for Gen-Z may be seen in adolescents. 

Trends in Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) budgeting

Whereas trends in funding for school-based counseling, social work, and psychology services increased at a steady rate, there was a steep increase from 2020 to 2021 funding for school-based student safety and wellness and dropout and crisis prevention services after evaluating the effect COVID-19 would have on students. Likewise, trends in position followed a regular increase for most of the services, with the most substantial increase being an increase in dropout and crisis prevention service positions from 16 to 28. 

Reflecting the current situation, the FY21 approved budget includes $9.3 million and an additional number of positions that is yet to be determined for the post COVID-19 placeholder response plan. Of the $10.5 million dollar total and total additional 42.5 positions, $1.9 million dollars and 16.5 additional positions will be allotted to the social/emotional category

Jefferson mental health

A few general ways to take care of your mental health involves maintaining a routine that incorporates exercise, proper meals, and time spent socially-distanced outside. Staying informed and connecting with friends through calling and texting or online games while also being watchful of excessive screen time is important. 

FCPS and Jefferson have continued to support mental health as well. School social worker Danielle Armstrong said she continued support groups that began during the in-person school year. Additionally, with co-workers she held some executive functioning groups and lunch groups, as well as continuing Minds Matter club meetings every Wednesday. 

“If students show up, we would be there. I think the psychologist, myself, and the counselors have all reached out to students individually and haven’t heard a lot back from students. I’ve met with a couple virtually, but you have to have parent permission… called informed consent to meet virtually, so I think that can be a little tricky,” Armstrong said.

In an explicit response to the pandemic, Armstrong, Leslie Barnhart, and all of the counselors and student service members created short flipgrid videos with various resources that can be taken advantage of during this time. The FCPS Parent Resource Center has been offering many webinars covering mental health and home schooling, in addition to other mental health resources. Fairfax County offers a parent line as a support group. Mental health brochures about domestic violence and child protective services have also been sent out and published in newsletters. 

“I’ve heard from parents that teenagers are getting more… irritable. I think that’s a byproduct of losing all sorts of control and… losing all of those high school rituals that they were looking forward to,” Armstrong said. “So it’s hard when you lose so much and have so little control and then your support system is sort of stripped and those structures are stripped.”

 

If you, or someone you know is in a crisis:

Call 911; TTY 711

CrisisLink Regional Hotline: 703-527-4077

CrisisText: text NEEDHELP to 85511

Dominion Hospital Emergency Room: 703-536-2000

Inova Emergency Services: 703-289-7560

Mobile Crisis Unit: 1-844-627-4747

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-237-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE

Merrifield Center Emergency Services: 703-537-5679

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