'Definitely overwhelming': Pandemic isolation having profound impact on mental health of young people
As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches the two year mark, isolation continues to take a toll on the mental health of young people — although evidence also shows they are also finding ways to cope.
Mari de Jesus is a Grade 12 student at Senator O’Connor College School in North York. The 17-year-old experienced mental health challenges before the pandemic, but in March 2020, they worsened.
De Jesus attributes the change to the isolation and adjusting to the “new normal.”
“It was definitely overwhelming. I know for myself and so many other people, our kind of way of coping with mental issues was distracting yourself and going out and seeing people, but then suddenly I was at home all alone. Alone with all my thoughts,” they said.
De Jesus felt more anxiety and was spiralling, thinking one negative thought, which would turn into many more.
“It was hard to come out of this hole I dug myself into.”
One night de Jesus decided to go to the hospital.
“I didn’t feel safe at home by myself.”
De Jesus is doing better now, managing changes with the pandemic and has a goal to become a social worker.
Mari de Jesus is seen in this photograph. (Beth Macdonell/CTV News Toronto)
They said the biggest mental health help during the pandemic was getting online and talking through virtual settings with friends, along with regularly seeing a therapist and texting Kids Help Phone.
De Jesus also uses social media to connect with peers and help others, which helps them cope too.
“100 per cent. That is a big thing for me,” de Jesus said.
“I’m kind of known as the mental health guy, like though my peers. If anyone has a problem they just come to me, even if we are not the closest, just because I’m so open about it. I’m very much trying to stop that stigma around mental health and spark a conversation about it.”
Over time, de Jesus has also been developing coping skills, including learning how to sit with emotions and proceeding mindfully.
“Knowing I don’t feel good right now, but it won’t last forever.”
ISOLATION HAVING PROFOUND IMPACT ON YOUNG PEOPLE
Joanna Henderson is a clinical psychologist, and senior clinical scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She’s also the Executive Director of Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario serving youth from 12 to 25 years of age.
Since the third week of the pandemic, Henderson has helped survey youth in Ontario about their experiences over the past two years, including looking at mental health.
“Isolation has a profound impact on young people,” Henderson said.
Henderson said during adolescences social connections typically mark important shifts, like an expanding social circle, the development of romantic relationships, and the emergence of work social relationships. All of these connections become key to many aspects of functioning.
“With the pandemic this key aspect of adolescent and young adult functioning has been compromised. The public health restrictions, concerns about health, and it created a lot of challenges for many young people.”
Henderson said it means some the developmental paths in terms of social relationships are happening more slowly — and used the example of transitioning from secondary school to post-secondary school or into work to meet new people and build relationships.
Even young people’s ability to get their drivers’ licence is having an impact.
“To be able to have the autonomy to be connecting in the community — all of these things have been delayed for many young people.”
She said the isolation has been “a significant negative” and said youth have experienced increased levels of anxiety and depression, along with concerns about body image and eating behaviours.
Henderson said there are young people who had pre-existing mental health concerns that are now experiencing significant difficultly, and there are those who hadn’t experienced it before, but are now newly experiencing it.
TDSB WELL-BEING PROGRAM TACKLING ISOLATION
A program at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is tackling pandemic isolation among students.
Yousra Lakhani, is a peer leader with Students for Well-Being, nicknamed as ‘S4W’ and is a Grade 12 student at Leaside High School.
‘Students are able to come together and discuss initiatives relating to mental health, well-being, coping mechanisms,” Lakhani said.
Yousra Lakhani is seen in this photograph. (Beth Macdonell/CTV News Toronto)
So far she said the events have mostly been virtual — Café Break, for example, is a drop-in about mental health and well-being, created fun games like Pictionary to help spur dialogue.
Lakhani said some of the topics discussed include body image and intersectionality.
“Even on Zoom it’s so nice to see they are so engaged, like talking in the chat and it’s really nice to see the interaction they have.”
Lakhani said one of the benefits of the group is that students are able to come up with the events, which helps keep students engaged.
“I think the pandemic has been really hard for students, especially the uncertainly of the pandemic, not knowing if school is going to open and refreshing Twitter to see what the latest updates are,” she said, adding the disconnect from friends and activities has also been challenging as these interactions are often used as a coping mechanism.
Lakhani said the goal of the meet-ups are to have real talks and so students can relate to one another, because what people are feeling is normal.
Imani Hennie, a social worker and the mental lead with the TSDB, focuses on mentoring and inspiring students in the group about positive mental and well-being, providing mental health literacy so the students can describe their feelings and reach out for help, and help one another.
“We know that students are tired of being home. The pandemic fatigue is there. We know they fear another total lockdown,” said Hennie.
Hennie said some students are also disproportionately impacted based on race - Black, Indigenous and people of colour.
“What we try to really encourage the students to look at what works for them. What is in their control in the moment, in the day. What can they do to make them feel good.”
MENTAL HEALTH DIFFICULTIES TIED TO CHANGES IN PUBLIC HEALTH RESTRICTIONS
Through research, Henderson and others found a majority of youth have experienced mental health difficulties to varying degrees — discovering it improved over the summer and declined as school resumed.
“Interestingly, though not surprising, we do see those difficulties at times for some young people correspond with changes in the public health restrictions,” Henderson said.
“We also interestingly found that there are some young people for whom some aspects of the public health restrictions have actually contributed to improved mental health for them. Some young people have talked about prior to the pandemic their lives were very full, very scheduled, very demanding.”
Henderson said these youth were able to step away from some activities and over time found that they may not return to the same level of busyness, while some found online learning to be a good fit.
Overall, she said, the research has shown there is one story for everyone.
“It’s quite individualized, depending on context and experience.”
ISOLATION AND FINDING WAYS TO BE OKAY
Henderson said the story of youth being isolated during the pandemic has also led to them finding ways to cope with mental health challenges.
“We seen a lot of creativity in terms of how youth are using digital technologies to stay connected,” said Henderson, citing the example of young people virtually watching movies together.
She said some youth are also spending more time outside and in nature.
Henderson said when it comes to “memory-making” experiences, such as graduation when family and friends come together, and the impact of missing these events have, it’s important to be cautious.
“Young people haven’t had those experiences yet. It can be the surrounding family and friends and media that keep sending the messages to young people that this is a terrible thing to have missed. Given they haven’t experienced it, I think we can do more in terms of supporting young people to recognize that there are exciting things ahead.”
She said while acknowledging some missed events are disappointing, it’s important to look forward.
Henderson said what she believes is most interesting is leading to significant changes against multiple domains of functioning of young people is in the school system, which ultimately may lead to more options for young people and may enhance their quality of life down the road.
Henderson advises youth experiencing mental health difficulties to stay connected to friends and reach out to people who can provide support.
Every day basics and routines are also important.
“Regular sleep routine, eating at regular points throughout the day, getting some exercise, reaching out and connecting with friends and family, these are critical for mental health,” she said.
Henderson said even though the pandemic is two years in, it’s important to keep at it and keep trying and to continue building on the positives.
Toronto Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The decision by police to wait before confronting the gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was a failure with catastrophic consequences, experts say. When it was all over 19 students and two teachers were dead.
A Dene filmmaker based in Vancouver says he was "disappointed" and "close to tears" when security at the Cannes Film Festival blocked him from walking the red carpet while dressed in a pair of moccasins.
As Russia asserted progress in its goal of seizing the entirety of contested eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin tried Saturday to shake European resolve to punish his country with sanctions and to keep supplying weapons that have supported Ukraine's defence.
The actions — or more notably, the inaction — of a school district police chief and other law enforcement officers have become the centre of the investigation into this week's shocking school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Around a hundred people gathered at noon Saturday at the empty Vancouver home where Chelsea Poorman’s remains were found late last month to show their support for her family's call for answers and justice.
Canada and Finland won semifinal games Saturday to set up a third straight gold-medal showdown between the teams at the IIHF world hockey championship.
Riot police fired tear gas and pepper spray at Liverpool supporters forced to endure lengthy waits to get into the Champions League final amid logistical chaos and an attempt by UEFA and French authorities to blame overcrowding at turnstiles on people trying to access the stadium with fake tickets on Saturday.
One week after a severe wind and thunderstorm swept through Ontario and Quebec, just over 48,000 homes in the two provinces were still without power on Saturday.
The devastating storm in southern Ontario and Quebec last weekend damaged thousands of hydro poles across the two provinces. CTVNews.ca gives a rundown of where utility companies get their hydro poles from, as well as the climate challenges in the grid infrastructure.
Is it unconstitutional to make someone pay to get a legal document translated into French? One of Montreal's top lawyers thinks so, and pointed out two other things from Bill 96 that he thinks the courts would most easily find fault with.
Quebec announced special financial assistance to cover food losses suffered by those using social assistance programs following power outages.
The CAQ wants to promote the idea that they are proud people; proud of themselves, proud to be Quebecers. It is the main message the party is choosing to deliver to the population four months before the election.
St. Aidan’s Anglican Church unveiled a new art installation Saturday, in anticipation for pride month
As the provincial election campaign winds down the bid to secure critical votes heats up, with two party leaders, Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath, making a stop in London on Sunday.
The Glen Cairn community and Glen Cairn School collected over 1300 boxes of mac and cheese to create a domino line that would then be donated to the London Food Bank
The Kitchener-Waterloo Dixieland Jazz Club held a rumpus New Orleans-style wake on Saturday, in remembrance of its long-time director Nancy Pauli. Pauli passed away in February at the age of 81.
No driver's license was needed for a group of high-schoolers driving their own electric vehicles through the University of Waterloo campus on Saturday.
From crayons to corks, car seats, bicycles and batteries, the second semi-annual Re: Purpose Fest took place in Guelph Saturday afternoon.
A small but passionate group gathered Saturday to protest the Ford government and autism therapy wait times outside PC MPP candidate Vic Fedeli's campaign office on McKeown Avenue.
The Sudbury Defeat Depression Walk/Run returned to Bell Park on Saturday, as the COVID-19 pandemic eases and normal events resume.
A long line of cars wrapped around the Humane Society's parking lot in North Bay Saturday morning as dozens of cats and dogs got microchipped.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Here's what you need to know about the storm cleanup in Ottawa
Hydro Ottawa is entering the "last phase" of restoring power to homes and businesses following a devastating storm over a week ago, with the goal to have the grid back on by tonight.
Hydro Ottawa says "we are close" to restoring power to the "bulk energy system" as crews enter "the last phase" of restoration efforts.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | What you need to know about the return to school on Monday
Hydro Ottawa crews continued to make progress through the weekend restoring powering to thousands of customers across Ottawa.
When 96-year-old Frank Davis woke up Saturday morning from his home in London, Ont., he never expected to find himself grasping the bars of a motorcycle that had played such a crucial role in his life
A two-year hiatus is now over for the Windsor Optimist Youth Band. The group was reunited Saturday during an open recruitment and alumni day celebration.
Windsor Regional Hospital is postponing a number of non-emergency diagnostic imaging scans due to an international shortage of contrast dye.
A new autism centre in Barrie held its grand opening on Saturday.
A former PSW at a Roberta Place in Barrie is reflecting on his battle with COVID-19 one year later.
Provincial police say an 87-year old man from Springwater Township reported missing earlier this week has been found deceased.
Rough road to recovery for N.B. duty-free shop – still holding out hope border traffic will increase
A N.B. duty-free shop owner at the U.S.-Canada border says high fuel costs and lingering requirements at the border are hurting business.
Two special prosecutors tasked with taking on Nova Scotia's human trafficking cases are sharing some insight into what's currently happening in the province's courts.
Vinyl lovers packed a community centre in Riverview, N.B., Saturday in search of a hidden gem or the missing piece to their collection at the bi-annual Moncton Record Expo.
A spark on special teams gave the Calgary Stampeders the momentum they needed to beat the B.C. Lions 41-6 on Saturday.
Back on the track: Calgary high school athletes compete in city championships for first time since pandemic
More than 600 athletes from 29 schools competed Saturday in the first Calgary high school city championship competition since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
A group of volunteers spent their Saturday morning outfitting a Calgary home with new appliances, furniture and food for a family in need.
A building located on Mayfair Avenue is being declared a complete loss after a fire broke out Saturday morning.
In Manitoba, the average home price in April 2022 was around $372,000, which is up from April 2021, when the average price was around $328,000, according to Manitoba Real Estate Association.
It’s been nearly four months since the historic Kirkwood Block caught fire and was left in ruins, but it is now starting to be taken down.
A wave of resignations among Northern B.C. health-care workers – including half the doctors in the intensive care unit of the region’s biggest hospitals – is raising alarms among civic leaders already calling for an audit.
Volunteers in Vancouver are stepping their efforts as the city continues to see a rise in property crimes.
An emotional rally outside City Hall Saturday afternoon called for more permanent solutions to help keep Edmonton's Chinatown a vibrant community.
A slo pitch league in St. Albert is helping seniors stay active and have fun on the field.
A street in north Edmonton will bear the name of a Ukrainian dance company to honour their more than 50 years worth of contributions to the local arts and culture scene.