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Cut off from classmates, high schoolers face pandemic stress alone

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 5/19/2020 2:53:24 PM

Before the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools across New Hampshire, Goffstown High School student Aron Silvestre said every minute of his days was planned out for him. Now, he feels cooped up inside his own house with little direction.

“I walk through these doors every day of my life, but now it feels different,” Silvestre said. “I feel like I’m just wandering the same rooms, constantly, the halls are filled with me in and out. Just going through the same house. I feel like I haven’t accomplished much.”

The hardest part of adjusting to distance learning was creating his new schedule, Silvestre said.

“Before, everything was planned out for me in my day – waking up, going to school, after school programs, homework, social time, and then bed and repeat,” he said. “And that is a life that I think a lot of us were used to. But now the hardest adjustment has to be creating this new schedule, this new life that we have to endure.”

Silvestre shared his struggles and how he is working to overcome them during a May 6 webinar, part of a six-part series called “Heads Up: Coping Through COVID-19,” organized by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health. The May 6 event aimed to help teens manage stress and anxiety amidst the pandemic. Remote learning has left many teens feeling isolated as they struggle to stay connected with peers. Shifting family dynamics and the uncertainty surrounding college and job prospects contribute to the anxiety that they are feeling.

Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, who is senior director of Public Affairs at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and a dedicated mental health advocate, joined the conversation about teen mental health.

“One in five adolescents have a mental health problem,” he said. “It’s usually anxiety or depression or both, and so I worry about them at times, and in the middle of a pandemic where all of us are feeling a little isolated and alone. I think those who might have a mental health problem need to be more attentive to it and need to be more focused on it and be able to talk about it more. That’s what I worry about.”

Lebanon High School student Emily Galeva said staying positive and motivated during this time has been difficult for her.

“I’ve had to actively change my brain into thinking positively and more opportunistically,” she said during the webinar.

Who Galeva is spending time with has changed drastically since distance learning took effect in mid-March.

“I’m not used to all of this alone time. I’m not used to being around my parents this much. And honesty, it’s kind of hard to find things to do, cause I’m just used to going to school and that’s my regular routine,” Galeva said.

Despite the challenges, she’s trying to take advantage of this unique time.

“I’m probably never going to get the chance to be this young and have this much alone time again,” she said. “So I’m kind of trying to look at this as an opportunity and take advantage of it, so I won’t be thinking negatively about this. I’ve just been trying to make the best of it.”

Broderick said this is the right idea. He urged teens to explore an interest they haven’t had time for before, or find a way to help others.

“You won’t ever have this time again. I can guarantee you that,” he said. “And sometimes it’s really beneficial to think about other people and what they might be enduring. And find a way to help them. And your generation, which is so connected on the internet, can do some important things that way.”

Broderick reminded the teens that quarantine won’t last forever.

“It seems that way right now, but it won’t. And so take the opportunity you have, as odd as it sounds, to do something different and important and maybe for someone else,” he said.

Galeva recommends that teens use their free time to get outside, go for hikes and walks, meditate, work out, make music, sing, and listen to new shows.

“My favorite new thing to do is listen to podcasts. There’s all sorts of podcasts out there. And you can even listen to ones about mental health and stuff,” she said.

She also recommends getting something to take care of, such as a plant, a frog or a tadpole.

“It just gives you something to do,” she said. “And it just makes you feel better in general.”

Silvestre said parents need to know teens are getting too much screen time and don’t have the support of peers, which for many teens is a form of therapy.

“Our whole day is on the internet and I don’t think we’re going outside enough,” he said. “And teens, we have really lost our coping mechanisms. We’re used to being in school, we’re used to going to sports. Usually seeing our friends is our coping mechanism.”

It’s entirely normal to feel stressed by this experience, Broderick said on the call.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself. This is hard on everyone.”

However, if a teen is feeling overwhelmed, they should reach out for help. Talking to a sibling, parent or school counselor can help, and professional counseling is available via telemedicine.

“If you were having problems before this might well make it worse,” Broderick said. “Don’t keep it to yourself.”

 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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