Effects of the Pandemic on Teens

Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain

Lonnie Zeltzer, MD
February 26, 2023 / 5 mins read

“The pandemic took a harsh toll on teen girls’ mental health, CDC says” -- this was the headline in the Los Angeles Times last week.

I will summarize from the actual CDC report now, which was publicized by a press release entitled, “U.S. Teen Girls Experiencing Increased Sadness and Violence.” The report is based on the 2021 data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which examines health behaviors and experiences among U.S. high school students.

The report noted that almost 60% of adolescent girls (nearly 3 out of 5 girls) indicated that they almost always felt sad and hopeless in 2021, an increase of 60% in the rate from ten years earlier. While the rate of depression had increased for boys, it was dramatically higher in girls. Although the rate of depression was higher for Native American and Alaskan Native youth, in general, the rates of depression were similar across race and ethnicity.

Suicide rates increased for both Black and White youth. Thirty percent of girls reported considering suicide. Almost 20% (1 in 5) said that they experienced sexual violence, with 14% of girls indicating that they had been forced to have sex. What was even more alarming was that more than half of youth who identified as LGBTQ+ indicated serious mental health problems, with 22% (more than 1 in 5) reporting that they had actually attempted suicide.

While the CDC article indicated that schools should do more, most teachers agree that they already have a lot on their plates given the drop in education and learning that took place during the COVID lockdown. Classes are still too large in public schools, and teachers are burdened with trying to teach teens who also have significant mental health problems.

Allostatic Stress Load

Teens who are stressed often exhibit what I call “body break-down,” where the amount of accumulated stress is more than the stress-control systems in the body can handle. The scientific name is “allostatic stress load,” a term which McEwen and Stellar introduced in 1993. This is the bodily cost of exposure to up and down -- or ongoing -- high neural and neuroendocrine responses to repeated environmental/social challenges which are viewed by the individual as stressful.

When the system is overloaded, the body breaks down and a variety of physical symptoms occur. These relate to the mind-body connection and are not “either psychological or physical” -- they are intertwined, each impacting the other.

Increase in Teen Pain Problems

This is why teens’ pain problems also escalated during and after 2021, and the problem continues. Old ideas about pain (“faking symptoms to get out of chores or school”) and current politics -- with its negative impact in many areas of the country on LGBTQ+ youth -- create further stress for our country’s teens.

Creative Healing for Youth in Pain (CHYP) does not directly provide mental health therapy or medical care. Rather, CHYP provides self-help tools for self-empowerment, as well as social support. which are both critical during this post-COVID period.

In addition, CHYP engages youth in creative arts as a way to express feelings and creativity in a peer-supported environment. Similar education and support programs are offered for parents. CHYP is one resource that can mitigate the negative impact of COVID lockdown and its subsequent effect on teens and families.

For more information, check out www.mychyp.org.