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Adolescent Mental Health in Lockdown

The March 2020 Covid-19 lockdown saw a significant increase in mental health problems with 83% of young people surveyed by Young Minds reporting that the pandemic had made their mental health worse. ( report_march2020.pdf). Now as England heads into its second lockdown, young people’s mental health is once again at increased risk.

At Teenage Mental Health we have seen young people present with a range of negative psychological issues resulting from the pandemic including infection concerns, frustration, boredom, worries about family finances, loss and fear.

One of the most significant overarching issues we see is around loss. During Covid-19 we have all been, and continue to go through, profound change and change involves loss. This can be the loss of a way of life that we had before, a loss of milestones, a loss of security, and it can involve the actual loss of something or someone. The loss of routine has been particularly difficult for young people, especially with the disruption to the academic year and the daily structure that comes with school attendance. We have seen this resulting in poor sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. The loss of key milestones has also been particularly disappointing, with events such as proms and end of year celebrations, birthday parties and festivities, and sitting exams all modified, postponed or cancelled.

The second significant emotional issue we have seen facing young people is around uncertainty. The pandemic has heightened the sense of uncertainty over a whole range of issues from family finances, relationships, friendships, employment, education, and physical health. Uncertainty can leave young people feeling anxious, powerless, insecure, and without any control over the direction of their lives.

Finally, for those young people who were already struggling with their mental health, this pandemic has only made it worse. Young people who were struggling with socialising, might have initially welcomed the break from society during a lockdown, but then struggled to find a way to reintegrate back into society once the first lockdown was over.

For those struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), particularly around hygiene and hand washing, the thought of a contagious, invisible virus threat has been particularly disturbing. And the message about “wash your hands less”, as part of their recovery, is now contradicted by the “wash your hands more”. Reports have shown an increase in OCD, Tourette symptoms, and physical tics during the Covid-19 pandemic as a result of increased anxiety (Robertson, 2020). If you recognise any of these difficulties in your own experience, then these are a few things that can help.

Create healthy routines
Try to go to bed and wake up at regular times, eat nourishing and regular meals, and try to engage in some physical exercise at least three times a week. These healthy routines will help you feel more in control, more secure, and can help reduce anxiety.

Be gentle with yourself
Right now, you are living through a global pandemic and there is no
right or wrong way to feel right now. Think about ways in which you can practice self-care. At
the end of each day think about one thing that you have done well today, no matter how small. You can also use lockdown as a chance to pause life for a short while if you can. Rest, reflect, and finds things to be grateful for in your life.

It is important not to keep your feelings bottled up as this will just increase your worries. Not talking about your problems often leads to self-destructive behaviours such as turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with those hidden emotions. So, it is really important to share your feelings with trusted friends and family.

Just because we might not be able to see people face to face, it doesn't have to mean an end to connections. You can connect with friends and family by having online chats, or online parties or games. You might consider ways of connecting with your wider community and carrying out acts of kindness, such as delivering care packages or food to those who are isolating, or befriending local older people who might be lonely, through regular phone calls.

Understand the facts
It can be overwhelming and unsettling to listen to constant media coverage of the pandemic. Try to limit the time you spend listening to the news and always use credible sources to get your information such as the WHO or NHS websites for reliable health information.

Establish boundaries
When living at home, particularly in crowded conditions with siblings, it might be a good idea to have a family meeting about how you will share the space in order that you find some space for studying or for time out and privacy.

Finally, if your feelings become overwhelming and nothing is helping then please reach out for support from a GP, a therapist, or contact the Samaritans or Papyrus

Robertson, Mary M et al. “Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome: advice in the times of COVID-
19.” F1000Research vol. 9 257. 14 Apr. 2020, doi:10.12688/f1000research.23275.2