Living in the time of COVID-19 has altered the way we interact and learn from social situations. For our youth in northern New Mexico, I am seeing local trends similar to national trends with regards to mental health degeneration. The increase in need for counseling and therapy services increased with youth isolation, online learning, and overall coping struggles.
While working in our schools, our students are crying out for normalcy, a schedule, interaction, and compassion. I can say that working with kids for the past 20 years, Questa Youth are STRONG.
First, the consistent need to social distance and wear a mask has not allowed our youth to see facial expression and body language, which is fundamental in learning social interactions. I see some students more reactive, due to an inability to regulate their emotions based on social and facial cues from adults and peers.
Secondly, more students have come to discuss the increase in substance use in their home since the pandemic began, paralleling national statistics, according to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since June 2020, the rise in starting substance abuse or overuse of substances has increased by 13 percent. In relation to that, overdose due to substances also increased during the pandemic. When we lack coping skills and fall back on substances to regulate us, it can hinder our youth from learning how to cope in healthy ways. The confinement, along with addiction, can be an awful combination but is the reality for some youth in our community.
Finally, the biggest issue I see with our youth is the desire for a sense of safety. COVID-19 has brough community tragedies, grief, and loss, along with feelings of mistrust and worry. The desire for youth to “go back to the way it was” has begun to fade in the minds of our youth: feeling safe among friends and family, feeling safe within their own homes and feeling safe enough in our community to ask for help.
The pandemic has brought financial hardships, too. People who never needed assistance are now in a situation of survival. Our youth observe adults, whether we let them know the stress or not, and pick up on our feelings of not knowing what’s going to happen next.
As adults in our community, it is important to see ourselves in our children and think back to what we would have done if we were dealing with COVID-19 in our youth. Reach out to community members that you normally would not reach out to, and check in. Allow for youth to verbalize and act out their feelings, but also direct them toward healthy coping skills.
Remember that our future is our youth, so let’s show them how to live healthy and productive lives while staying strong against this pandemic.