Too many teenagers are scared to show that they are struggling with mental health during pandemic

No-one can deny that 2020 has been a tough year for its teens with cyber bullying, exam stress and a social media culture piling on the pressure to always appear happy and look good - and this is coming to you from a teenage girl herself.
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Perhaps it is little wonder newspaper headlines talk about a burgeoning crisis in young people’s mental health. Self-harm, depression and anxiety levels are reported to be soaring.

A survey by the UK’s National Union of Students found eight out of 10 people in education and higher education say they have experienced ‘increasing problems with mental health in the past year’.

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This upswing in mental illness amongst teenagers really does not surprise me. I am one of the teenagers of the UK today.

The coronavirus pandemic has brought extra strain on the mental health of teenagersThe coronavirus pandemic has brought extra strain on the mental health of teenagers
The coronavirus pandemic has brought extra strain on the mental health of teenagers

Since I can remember, I have struggled with battling my anxiety. When I was a young child, I used to get so overly excited to go to a dentist appointment, go swimming with my primary school class or even to go on holiday, that I would feel sick, sweat excessively and struggle to get myself out the door without the encouraging push of my parents.

I am 16 now, I get this anxiety less ‘full-on’ now, but I know that it’s likely I’ll always battle with anxious episodes. As problems go, it doesn’t feel like the end of the world; when my anxiety decides to show its devil horns at me again.

Between 13 and 16, I’ve learned to manage handle my anxiety pretty well and recognise signs and triggers.

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As an example, like my hayfever, it flares up only on occasion, and for the most part I can deal with it and move on without too much disruption to my everyday life.

Columnist Daisy SmithColumnist Daisy Smith
Columnist Daisy Smith

But in this, I realise, I am very fortunate to have had amazing parents and resources to help me. There are resources and a good home environment, which too many young people lack.

Too many teenagers have too little access to good mental health treatment, whether they lack encouragement from school, family or friends, or they feel ashamed, embarrassed or ‘weak’ if they admit they are struggling.

Modern life is unkind to our mental health, so it’s no wonder that with the pressure to uphold a happy-go-lucky persona on social media that so many young people fear that if they admit they are ‘not ok’ or not dealing with the pressures of society – especially during the Covid-19 crisis - well, their vulnerability might affect their employment, or relationships, during a time when our paths as young people are much less uncertain than those of our parents.

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But, why is it so important to know what path you need to take as a teenager? If you are reading this as an adult who has probably had more than one career path or job, are you the same person you were when you were 15 or 16?

Our current preoccupations with ‘money, fame and image’ are highly likely to be contributing to our decline in mental health, according to a ‘twenge’ study.

Too often, media narratives of mental health among young people make me feel worse about myself, because they are typically shaped into a tale of money, fame and self-image. They usually follow along the lines of ‘I was depressed, I got treatment, I got a job and a family, now I’m happy’.

Now, I understand why these stories take this stereotype; there’s a strong temptation and pressure by society to achieve a certain goal - such as a good job and a nice house - which surely will discharge the issue and bring it to a nice closure? Sometimes it does.

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It’s not completely false. But is this perception not partly to blame for the idea that teenagers must get better and must find an end solution to their problems.

For many young people, this is not the case, and I fall into the latter category.

Yes, it is good to have goals. Yes, you should push yourself as hard as you possibly can to achieve that goal - but only if you want it and if you’re in the right frame of mind to do so.

We are born into a world where we go to school starting at four, then we spend two years focusing on exams which we are made to feel like they decide our future, then to work. There really is no time to just stop and think about what we really want. Until now.

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Whilst lockdown has been equally damaging for teenage mental health, I ask you to take this time - we literally have been asked to stop (and left with a lot of time to give into our internal monologue) – to heal and look after yourself.

A lot of the time, young people just need the reassurance of adults – and other teenagers - around them to accept that it’s ok to struggle sometimes.

It’s ok not to be perfect and to show your not-so-good side - something which social media fails to do. Surely it’s ok to have reached a state of peaceful co-existence with mental health issues - especially during a time like this where nothing is certain for young people - instead of being pushed on to find a cure?

As a 16-year-old female, lockdown has actually made me re-evaluate just what is important in my life, and has made me much more family-oriented than I was previously before.

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And it took lockdown for me to discover that sharing my ‘weaknesses’ and reconnecting with my family is what ultimately made me feel less anxious.

*In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor