Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Zanny Shehata, Teen Link Supervisor
Well, another year has started and in some ways, it feels as if we are back at square one. Clearly a lot has changed in the last two years (for better or for worse) but I think a lot of us are feeling that 2020 anxiety that never fully went away creeping back up.
My name is Zanny Shehata and I am a supervisor at Teen Link, a peer-to-peer emotional support hotline for teens in Washington State. During my work on the phone line, I have seen the ebb and flow of negative emotions surrounding the pandemic – anxiety, depression, isolation, hopelessness, you name it. As humans, we like to feel that we have some sense of control over our environments and our lives, and with so much change and uncertainty happening at once, it makes sense for youth especially to feel hopeless. I want to remind you that while it may feel as though we are more isolated than ever, we are all navigating this experience together.
This shared experience among teenagers can be observed in the recent COVID-19 Student Survey conducted by the University of Washington, where over 60,000 middle and high school students in Washington State were asked about their current mental health. 57.7% of high schoolers surveyed said that they felt sad or depressed most days, and 17.2% had seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.1 These feelings were even more common in students identifying as LGBTQ+ and students who reported having a disability. I hear these feelings expressed often on the Teen Link hotline, and despite the commonality of the issue, many teens feel as though they are going through this alone.
Countless times, I have heard teens express worry over burdening others with their problems. They avoid talking to their friends, parents, siblings, or teachers because they don’t want to cause additional stress on their loved ones. This is a completely valid concern, but the result is that everyone is internally experiencing so much stress, and no one is talking about it. While I can’t speak for everyone’s situation, I will say this – if we all talked about mental health more openly, I think the world would feel a little less lonely.
Of course, not everyone has a support system in place that they can trust. It is truly a privilege to have a supportive home and/or school environment. If you have come across this post and find yourself feeling like you don’t have anyone to lean on, I highly recommend checking out the “Resources for Teens” tab on this website. No matter how harsh the world may feel sometimes, you are not alone and there are always people out there who care and want to help. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can always call or text Teen Link at 1.866.833.6546.
I will leave you all with this table pulled from The Wellness Society’s Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook. According to The Wellness Society, “research shows that when we shift our focus to what we can control, we see meaningful and lasting differences in our wellbeing, health, and performance.”2 I challenge you to think about the things that you have control over right now and how you could improve your mental wellbeing by working on them. Remember that it’s okay to take things one step at a time, and to be kind to yourself.
Within My Control:
Following the latest information and advice
Focusing on what is important to me
Eating well and exercising
Seeking and offering support
Outside of My Control:
Other people's decisions
Other people's health
The government's action
Schools opening and closing
The state of the healthcare system
Flights and holidays being cancelled
1University of Washington Center for the Study of Health & Risk Behaviors, Washington State Health Care Authority, Washington State Department of Health, Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. COVID-19 Student Survey: Mental Health and Substance Use Topic Summary - High School Students, Seattle/Olympia, WA. Published August 2021. https://csswashington.org/documents/Mental-health-and-substance-use-high-school.pdf.
2The Wellness Society. Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook. https://thewellnesssociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus-Anxiety-Workbook.pdf.