Prior to the pandemic lockdown, youth spent more time with their peers than with their family. Social isolation, brought on by precautionary measures aimed at containing spread of the COVID-19 virus has negatively impacted youth mental health. Social exclusion and the lack of social stimulation associated with pandemic restrictions are known to have affected youth in a variety of ways.
Anxiety, depression, loneliness, bullying, stress, hyperactivity and unhappiness from reduced contact and socialization with peers are some of the negative effects of the pandemic restrictions on the youth. To support of this point, a World Health Organization (WHO) media briefing (June 12, 2020), expressed concern about the indirect effects of COVID-19 on youth health in general. The Organization suggested that a high risk of depression, anxiety, online harassment, physical and sexual violence and unintended pregnancies, could occur. School closure was indicated as an area of indirectly affecting youth health, as a significant number of health care services, like mental health services, were accessible through this portal.
Studies on youth brain development have shown a relationship between brain chemical activity and social development. Social deprivation was shown to decrease chemicals responsible for motivation and reward processes, resulting in diminished participation in pleasurable activities. Social distancing and insufficient connectedness deprive adolescents of the face-to-face contact they need with others outside their homes, making them frustrated, irritable and stressed. Social development allows adolescents to understand others and establish meaningful relationships.
Adolescents have an increased need to socialize physically with friends, play sports or engage in other pastimes. However, social and physical distancing rules thwart their ability to do so, rendering them susceptible to tobacco, alcohol use; and a risk for increased drug use and addiction.
The United Nations’ 2020 World Drug Report indicates that the global drug market is expanding and becoming more complex. New substances are emerging and use of designer drugs are increasing. Consequently, it is important for youth to be informed and understand risks for substance use, adverse effects, and strategies for shunning drug use and where to find help when needed. Our booklet, “Cannabis and Other Substance Use: An Information Guide for Adolescents” is a resource to try.
Adolescent can use this pandemic restriction to bond with siblings, parents and enjoy family interactions. Connect with friends regularly through social media, video chatting, blogging, online gaming to diminish the adverse effects of social isolation. These interactions stimulate reward processes, positivity and increase in wellbeing. Scale down on screen time, though, and read books. Relax with music, visualize favourite things and places in a quiet environment, practice deep breathing exercises when stressed out, and avoid junk foods. Exercise, avoid drugs, alcohol and caffeine, which can be found in tea, cola drinks and over-the-counter cold medications.
These suggestions can offset some of the negative effects of social isolation and help youth to emerge from this pandemic resilient, motivated and happy.