Improving Mental Health in a Pandemic

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By Andrew Balaban, Staff Writer

2020 has been a mentally and emotionally trying year for everybody. The short term and long term ramifications of social isolation are uncertain. This is especially true for adolescents, who are already dealing with a number of other novel pressures such as social media, an economic recession, etc.

“I definitely feel like my mental health has been negatively impacted by isolation,” says Henry Millman, a student at New Paltz High School. “As well as stress related to the pandemic.”

The effects of social isolation could be additionally detrimental to adolescents, as they have a greater need for interaction.  While it could be inferred that teens would turn to social media to make up for this lost socialization, a survey by the Wheatley Institute reports that from 2018 to the summer of 2020, social media use among teens has actually decreased.

In regards to improving her mental health, a sophomore at New Paltz High School says, “My mental health wasn’t the best in the first month or so, just because of all the anxiety that the pandemic had brought on.”

A survey by the American Psychological Association reveals that 67% of respondents claim they have “experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic”. The same survey shows 50% of Gen-Z teens express that the pandemic “severely disrupted their plans for the future,” which can be a major cause of stress.

“I think it’s had a big impact on mental health,” remarksDr. Mark Balaban, Director of Counseling Services at SUNY Dutchess (and father of the writer). “Series of events in our culture – in our world – are increasing stress across the board for people.”

With a deadly pandemic, social isolation, and a presidential election, it makes sense that stress levels would be increasing across the board. Balaban asserted that problems such as stress and anxiety, which existed before, have been “exacerbated” by the current state of events.

“Socialization is very important,” Dr. Balaban continues. “Particularly important for adolescents and thankfully there are opportunities to connect via social media but in-person communication is really important so it’s been a strainer in a much greater sense.”

The aforementioned sophomore continues, “Over the summer I started going back to camp, doing more activities, and getting my social life back.” She then adds, “I’m in a better metal state than I was before the pandemic.”

“General strategies that I recommend are around self care and engaging in healthy eating, sleeping, exercise… as well as just sort of emphasizing other forms of coping which to some degree can be idiosyncratic,” Dr. Balaban states. “Some people, you know, talk with friends or read books or watch movies”.

Social deprivation is critically damaging to mental wellness, especially in teens. The Lancet Child & Adolescent journal declares social interaction a basic human need, “analogous to food consumption or sleep.” So despite the increased difficulty in doing so brought on by the pandemic, it is vital to make time for social interaction, whether in-person or virtually. 

“Having occasional meetings with friends has helped a lot,” Millman says.

While there are multiple useful and beneficial methods of improving wellness during this pandemic, in some cases, the stressors are too immense to be treated solely by a behavioural change.

“It would be great to seek out counseling and support,” Balaban maintains, “Many of the strategies and approaches would be individualized to what that person is going through.”

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