Diya Patel and Ananya Shrivastava, 2022 Governor's STEM Scholars
Diana was a teenager like every other, starstruck with dreams and ambitions, and was working hard to bring them to reality; however, when the COVID-19 global pandemic struck, it abruptly halted so many of the norms that she had taken for granted. Diana began to spiral with her grades, sleeping habits, screen time, and worst of all, her mental health. While Diana wasn't a unique case for this, we're sure that there was a Diana in all of us at some point during the pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization, 20 percent of children and young adults live with mental health conditions and the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-29 is suicide. With an increase in social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, during the past two years, mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug dependency, and lower self-esteem have increased in young adults. The COVID-19 pandemic will have rippling effects across our generation for decades, if not, our entire lifetime. Some friends share how they cope with depression and anxiety, while others struggle to deal with suicidal thoughts. We hope one positive effect of the pandemic is the destigmatization of mental health issues in young adults. The future is in our hands: Gen Z.
Through social media, young adults can learn of others’ struggles in a way that was not available to previous generations. According to Cheryl Carmin, Ph.D., a psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, “COVID-19 is prompting conversations that have been needed long before the pandemic hit”. We wholeheartedly agree. Without such talk in our community, no one, especially teenagers, would receive the treatment and assurance they might need. The shared experience of loss, grief, and loneliness of COVID-19 has helped to destigmatize mental health discussions. Additionally, over the course of the pandemic, there have been many resources that have been dedicated to supporting positive youth mental health. New Jersey is taking steps to provide young adults with the tools to cope and combat mental health issues. The state set aside $30 million in federal relief funds to support mental health in schools. The New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) encourages Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs in schools to help students develop healthy identities, manage emotions, maintain supportive relationships, among other important skills. Additionally, they encourage schools to utilize the Schools Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation System (SHAPE): a tool used to identify mental health strengths and needs of entire school populations.
Other strides have been taken in making help more accessible. For example, in July of 2020, the National Suicide hotline was changed to 988 as a way of making it easier to remember. Telehealth options for mental health services have become more prevalent during the pandemic making it easier to access help. Advocacy and awareness groups have used social media to promote mental health awareness throughout the pandemic, connecting young adults at home to resources and motivation they could use. We know that when we see other people discuss their mental health struggles, it is easier for us to have honest conversations around our struggles.
Although these measures sound significant, they are, in truth, small steps to destigmatizing mental health. The more awareness brought to mental health issues, the more comfortable people are publicly discussing their mental health and the more people will seek help. In current times, we are beginning to see positive awareness and accessibility changes made to mental health services. So let’s collectively continue to #BreaktheStigma on mental health.
Diya Patel is a junior attending Central Jersey College Prep Charter School, a prospective STEM major, and a 2022 Governor’s STEM Scholar.
Ananya Shrivastava is a junior at Parsippany Hills High School, a 2022 Governor’s STEM Scholar, and has been running the PHHS Mental Health Awareness Club since October 2020