How The Pandemic Has Affected Teenager’s Mental Health


By Colette Hale

During the COVID-19 pandemic, suspected suicide-attempt emergency department visits were 50.6 percent higher among girls aged 12–17 years. Among boys aged 12–17 years, suspected suicide attempt emergency department visits increased by 3.7 percent, according to a report from the CDC in 2021. The coronavirus pandemic has affected people in many different ways, but one thing in common is that the recent pandemic has taken a severe toll on mental health, especially among teenagers. The levels of mental disorders and drug usage have been increasing over the past two years. There has also been an increase in addiction rates and suicide attempts caused by the pandemic. 

In the Tam community, anxiety and depression levels have been rising, there has been an increase in drug usage, and attendance records have shown a decrease in student attendance at school. While these issues were prevalent even before the pandemic, the coronavirus has increased these rates. The California Healthy Kids Survey has recorded students’ feelings of sadness/hopelessness increasing. The study shows, “Reports of experiencing chronic, debilitating sadness/hopelessness rose in all three grades: up six percentage points in seventh grade to 30 percent, three points in ninth to 33 percent, and four points in 11th, to 37 percent. These are the highest levels reported in the past six years and reverse small improvements that occurred in 2015/17.” The study also shows that, “Among high school students, contemplating suicide held steady at 16 percent and 17 percent (even increasing one point in 11th grade), after having declined in 2015/17.” 

Miriam Cook, a history teacher at Tam, shares how she has been supportive of students needing extra help. “I have been pretty flexible. I know that my experience with the pandemic has been my experience and that every single student is coming in with a different experience and I want to be really mindful of that. It’s hard to know what’s going on in someone’s life and I don’t want to make assumptions about what someone is experiencing. That said, I still want to hold students to high standards and I still expect that they will be able to demonstrate knowledge of what we cover and the skills that we work on,” Cook said. She added that the effects on mental health can look different for everyone, and teenagers especially may need a little more support or space. 

Another staff member at Tam, wellness counselor Yvonne Milham, describes the ways that wellness has been, and is able to provide extra support for students who are seeking it. Milham describes how, “Tam has eight different wellness providers who can provide one on one support to students. In addition we have the Wellness Center which has been very utilized, especially when we first got back. We saw a trend of, usually we have a slow period when we start in August then it ramps up, but this August it was slammed and I feel like now it’s starting to taper. We also have a couple of groups that we are running, not specifically to covid.” The Wellness Center at Tam is an area where students are able to go whenever they need to, during class, lunch, or during break. It was designed to provide an area where students can feel comfortable enough to talk to an adult, seek help if they have physical or mental problems, or they can go there if they need a break from school. 

Students and teachers have been affected differently by the pandemic, but sophomore Skye Guyot shares how some of her teachers haven’t been understanding of the pandemic and how it’s affecting students’ mental health. “For the most part, my mental health hasn’t been affected by school specifically, but I think at some points it has. Some teachers have done a really good job at trying to help us get back to normal without stressing us out too much but other teachers haven’t really taken that step to care about their students as much and so that has affected me a little bit,” she said. 

While the Tam community has had to adapt to covid spikes and take safety measures, it has been hard to stop the toll on mental health coronavirus has taken. Regarding her personal mental health and the toll covid had, Milham said, “I am a therapist so I know all of the ways to take care of myself mentally and so I am extra focused on my sleep, on feeding myself good, nutritious food, moving my body, breathing, being with my family, and it’s still hard. I was with a group of teachers at lunch and we were talking about how it is almost the two year anniversary of when this started. In the beginning we were all like, ‘Huh! This is a little weird,’ and wondering whether we were going to get extra time before spring break. Now we are just slogging through the mud of covid. I feel like my mental health took a little dip because I thought we were almost done.”

Along with adults, teenage mental health has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, especially since high school is crucial for brain development. Guyot shares how her personal life has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic when she says, “I would say my social life and school life have been pretty affected. In the beginning of the pandemic it was really hard to hang out with people and it’s getting better but it still isn’t back to normal. School being online was different and it was nice to be at home for part of it but it also made it harder to do the work sometimes. I know that myself and some other people were pretty stressed coming back to school and being at risk for covid.”

Additionally, Ande Kelly, a former student at Tam but now a sophomore at Tamiscal, shares her feeling on how she has mentally been impacted by covid, and also why she decided to transfer schools in the middle of the year. “I felt like I was so overwhelmed by getting all my work done, keeping up with classes, playing school sports, finding time to spend with friends, and also participating in outside activities. Covid wasn’t too big of a factor but it is sometimes uncomfortable being around students who aren’t vaccinated or who aren’t as concerned about covid,” Kelly said. 

As the realization that covid wasn’t going to go away quickly set in, students turned to drugs, alcohol, social media, and other harmful behaviors to cope. Being a wellness counselor, Milham has experienced many different ways students have been coping with their feelings about school, the pandemic, and life in general. Based on what she has seen, Milham shares that, “There are some students who have been coping by using substances. One of our wellness counselors specifically helps students with substance use and abuse.  When students  are ready to either lessen or stop, she works with them so that’s one way. It’s a little better now, in August I was seeing a lot of students who were still feeling kind of disconnected, not knowing socially. It was weird. You all were on zoom school for a really long time and then you are back and some folks came back last March and then some students just continued to zoom for the entire end of the year. August represented a return to school for a lot of kids and people just have to figure out how to do this all over again. It is not even how it used to be. I truly believe everyone is doing the best they can with the tools that they have.”

Cook has seen a couple different ways her students have been coping with their school life and mental health. These are a few: “I have seen a couple different things, some of them seem new and some of them seem like they have been in the case for a while. I have definitely seen social anxiety pulling students and being a little bit bigger of a distraction or a barrier to feeling comfortable at school than it was before. I have definitely seen a little bit more distraction or disassociation like jumping on phone games or apps during class, to just try to take a little moment inside your own head to feel ready to face the next part of the day. I have seen a little less comfort talking to new people or taking a little bit longer to settle into a new group.” 

Guyot has also had some experience in having to cope with the struggles the pandemic has brought, having started and continued her entire high school experience amidst a pandemic. “Even if I have a lot of schoolwork I try to take time to do things I enjoy and getting outside and off of social media. I watch tv if I am feeling overwhelmed or go for a walk and try to hang out with friends. Just getting outside can be really helpful,” Guyot said. She shares that a common theme she has seen with her peers is making time to do things for yourself that don’t involve schoolwork or going on social media. 

Social media has been a big factor in affecting teenage mental health, usually in a more negative way. Sophomore Sophia Weinberg shares how the constant use of big social media apps like Tik Tok and Snapchat affected her mental health and self-image. “The pandemic affected my self esteem a lot. I think teens spent so much time on Tik Tok during quarantine, it became a toxic environment. It used to be a very fun, light-hearted app but over quarantine, people started posting a lot of body focused content and  really skinny people. I think it affected a lot of girls’ mental health. I realized I was struggling when I would just spend all day during quarantine scrolling through Tik Tok and seeing like really pretty skinny girls and it would just really upset me, and it’s not normal to be upset by that,” she said. Weinberg continued to describe how she became really dependent on her phone and developed FOMO, or a fear of missing out. She would get jealous or feel left out when her friends would hang out without her and turned to social media to distract her, therefore continuing to worsen her mental health and body image.

A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the CDC shared their knowledge on how to prevent suicide attempts form happening. The CDC said, “Suicide can be prevented through a comprehensive approach that supports persons from becoming suicidal as well as persons who are at increased risk for suicide. Such an approach involves multisectoral partnerships (e.g., public health, mental health, schools, and families) and implementation of evidence-based strategies to address the range of factors influencing suicide attempts, which is a leading risk factor for suicide.”