Hailey Kern, 15 years old, from Suffern, New York said that she felt fine when the pandemic started in March 2020. She was confined to her home with her parents and two younger brothers for the first weeks and months, while she adapted to online school. Hailey stated that she felt overwhelmed by the pandemic many days and it was difficult for her to get out of bed after resuming full-time, in person learning last fall.
Hailey described her anxiety as feeling like she was carrying 100 pounds. "It becomes easier to pretend you're okay than to tell people you are not."
Hailey began to see a psychiatrist more frequently and was then prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
Hailey isn't the only one. The United States is approaching the second anniversary of the pandemic. A growing number of parents and psychiatrists are reporting that in-person learning has not been the panacea many believed it would be for their children.
Hailey's mother Sarah Kern said that "Going back at school five days per week with everyone on campus together, it just wasn’t the answer."
Jonathan Slater is a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital. He refers to Generation Z patients that he treats for mental health issues related to pandemics as the "walking wounded."
"Generation U" is the acronym I invented for this generation. It stands for Generation Uncertainty. He said that youth face the greatest challenges today because of uncertainty about what the future holds.
Slater stated that the mental toll of the pandemic on children has been manifested in a variety of ways.
"Young people are more anxious and depressed than ever before. They are acting out. They are getting into more trouble. He suggested that they might be getting into more drugs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of adolescents visiting emergency rooms for mental health issues rose by 31% in 2020, compared to 2019. Between February and March 2021 the number of emergency department visits to treat suicide attempts was 51 percent higher for girls aged 12-17 than it was in 2019.
Parents are raising concerns about their children's mental health, and this is a national trend. A survey of 1,000 parents across the country was conducted by Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. 71% of respondents said that the pandemic had affected their children's mental well-being, while 69 percent stated that it was the worst thing that happened to them.
Many parents and government officials had predicted that the return to in-person learning would help young people's mental well-being. However, Slater stated that it has not been as effective as many thought.
Slater stated, "Suddenly, they're back at school, and the expectation are raised to where they were before, which can be stressful for students with social anxiety." "Returning back to school is not necessarily a panacea."
Sydney Jackson, a Hartsdale high school senior, stated that her return to learning in person was surprising.
Sydney, who participates in student government and school musicals said that she is proud of her ability to communicate with others. After spending months away, Sydney felt socially awkward returning to school in person.
Sydney stated, "I experienced anxiety." "I was learning to have conversations again and to talk face-to-face again."
Sydney stated that her anxiety caused sleep patterns to fluctuate. She was either tired all the while or was awake and couldn't sleep. Two extremes were possible.
Sydney began seeing a professional counselor to address her feelings several months ago. She said that she had never imagined she would do this before the pandemic.
Sydney stated that seeking professional assistance was a game-changer.
Sydney stated, "I believe that everyone should have someone they can talk to." "It's something I want to keep, just having a place where I feel comfortable is something I value."
Hailey and Sydney both say that professional help has helped them through the worst of the pandemic. Slater stated that there is not enough national pediatric psychiatrists or psychologists, particularly now that so many families are dealing with mental health issues related to the pandemic.
Slater stated that "our emergency room is overflowing with children who need to be admitted." The hospital units are already full. There is a huge oversupply of children who need our help. We can't provide the necessary care for them. I wish I could break myself up into two or three. I cannot handle all calls. Neither can my colleagues.
Hailey's parents, and Sydney's parents, are pleased that Hailey has found a way for their daughters to seek professional help.
They worry about the long-term effects of the pandemic on their children.
Kaye Jackson, Sydney’s mother, said that "it took away the spirit and joy of being young." It's almost as if it took their future. They have to re-imagine their future now.