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Sad? Scared? Don’t be afraid to get help

Take the path that leads to good mental health. Get help if you feel down. (Chuying Huo/YJI)

For the world’s youth, the repercussions of covid-19 weren’t only felt by physical distancing and isolation, but also by their hearts and minds as concerns about the disease impacted their mental health and well-being.

Since the severity of mental health issues varies from one person to another, it can be difficult to tell whether problems are simply everyday stress from online school and missing friends or something more serious that needs to be addressed.

Someone who was healthy before the confinement may not be now. Should they seek help, and if so, how?

Mental health professionals who treat young people offered Youth Journalism International some suggestions for when youth should seek help.

Sara Sirati, a mental health counselor in Cardiff, Wales, said that if anxiety and negative thoughts and feelings persist, young people should reach out to a mental health professional, organization or their own physician.

A sidewalk message. (Katrina Machetta/YJI)

It’s normal to feel in a worse mood since our everyday lives have changed, said Paulina Véjar, who has worked as a school psychologist for the last 24 years in Quito, Ecuador.

But Véjar said the bad feelings shouldn’t linger all day or for days on end.

“If some days we feel good, others bad, we are within the normal, natural, and necessary,” she said. “But if there are long periods of a bad mood and this affects my diet, my sleep, my desire to contain contact with the other … then you need to confront it and ask for help.”

But how to get help?

Laura Reed, a counselor at Lincoln College in England, said young people who feel stressed, overwhelmed or depressed might be able to get relief through hobbies or activities.

Things that sound simple can make a difference, Reed said, citing mindfulness and breathing exercises, listening to music, exercising, watching a TV program, phoning a friend or talking to a family member.

Roseanne Erika Loquellano, a medical intern in Manila in the Philippines, also said activities can help, but said support from other people is crucial.

If things get worse, psychotherapist Helen Butlin in Ontario, Canada, suggested young people call a mental health crisis line or other help lines. 

Grafitti in Istanbul. (Bilge Nur Güven/YJI)

When tensions are rising and there is conflict, Butlin said, but not physical or psychological abuse, the best course of action is to try to keep some space for yourself, like a room, if possible.

She also suggested calling a friend or finding another way to soothe yourself.

Butlin also emphasized the importance of youth learning some ways to communicate their needs without it becoming a conflict. They could say they need some space and are going to their room for a few hours and will check in later. That way, parents know they’re coming back.

Don’t give up on your mental health or minimize the problem just because there is a pandemic, experts said.

The coronavirus is dangerous, but ignoring mental well-being is risky, too.

This story was reported by Aileen Cevallos in Quito, Ecuador; Nisha Chandar-Nair in Lincoln, England; Chuying Huo in Ontario, Canada;  Katrina Machetta in Spring, Texas and Nivetha Nandakumar in Cardiff, Wales.  It was written by Manar Lezaar in Fez, Morocco. Katrina Machetta made the sidewalk photo and Chuying Huo made the cover photo.

Covid Mood is a global project by Youth Journalism International examining how the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 impacted mental health among the world’s young people. Its 17 news stories and accompanying photos and illustrations are by 21 students from a dozen nations on six continents. Together, they interviewed 56 teenagers and young adults in 18 countries and mental health professionals from five different nations. All Covid Mood stories are accessible here.

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