Adolescents and mental health: the impact of the pandemic on young people
The Covid-19 pandemic drastically changed the social interactions we all had on a daily basis. Social distancing avoids physical contact, personal protective equipment prevents the recognition of smiles, grimaces, basic signs of expression: they are essential and fundamental safety measures, but with a strong impact on sociality between people.
How has the daily life of adolescents changed?
If these changes have affected adults, firmly formed both temperamentally and mentally, kids and adolescents have suffered a severe blow. The lockdown has reduced sports and recreational activities, forcing young people at home and changing their habits, distance learning has changed the ways of learning and organizing study: if it is easy to lose concentration in a classroom guided by the explanation of a teacher, having to stay focused during a lesson in front of a screen can greatly reduce attention and involvement in teaching activities.
Teenagers and mental illness in the covid era
Teenagers have always faced great changes and transformations. It is a vulnerable age in which one is called to fulfill oneself as an individual, redefining one's values meeting people outside the family: friends, professors or sports coaches.
This wealth of inputs, which was considered normal until 2019, has been weakened by the arrival of Covid-19. Teenagers of 2022 have profoundly changed compared to their peers in the pre-pandemic era and the most alarming difference is in their mental health: this is confirmed by the data of numerous studies.
If, according to the UNICEF report, even before Covid-19 young people carried the weight of mental problems, the impact of the pandemic could have negative repercussions on their health in the long term. We are talking about the future of millions of boys and girls: according to UNICEF, 89 million boys and 77 million girls between 10 and 19 years old.
From a report by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) which analyzes Italian families with children under 18, published in June 2020, it emerges that 71% of children over the age of 6 have had behavioral problems and symptoms of regression; in adolescents, on the other hand, the most frequent disorders are somatoform (such as the feeling of lack of air), anxiety and sleep disorders (difficulty falling asleep or waking up).
The survey commissioned by the National Council of the Order of Psychologists (CNOP), published in October 2021, also collects scientific evidence on the subject: the 5,621 psychologists examined talk about a 31% increase in patients under 18 years of therapy. Among them, 1 out of 2 experiences psychological distress and 1 out of 10 manifests a disorder, as stated by the President of the CNOP David Lazzari.
How to support young people?
How can we help teenagers today? To support parents, it is necessary to involve health professionals to concretely promote psychological and neuropsychiatric health in collaboration with schools, local authorities and territorial realities of the third sector. We need to strengthen the network for adolescents and their families, to promote health prevention behaviors with information and educational activities, to promote interdisciplinary integration by creating new contacts and learning networks for students.
Various initiatives are already underway with these objectives, including:
“AiutaMente Giovani”: a plan for the protection of mental health and the prevention of psychological distress of young people launched by the Lazio Region;
The Helping Adolescents Thrive – HAT di UNICEF project: a set of guidelines on mental health interventions for teenagers, such as developing targeted policies, planning services and strengthening health and education systems;
“Prevenzione Scuola”: the project born from the collaboration between Enel Cuore and Fondazione Progetto Icaca to provide upper secondary school students, teachers and families with clear information on mental disorders, how to recognize them and tools to support young people.
The aforementioned ISS Report recommends daily precautions: we should try to recreate new habits and rhythms for a balanced lifestyle, to express trust and support to our children, and if we notice disturbing signs, let's not ignore them but resort to the support of specialists.
There is no single way to help struggling teenagers: it is only with a synergistic and integrated approach that we can support them in a concrete and effective way.