Continued Stresses for Adolescents During the Pandemic

Continued Stresses for Adolescents During the Pandemic

In December 2021, a rare public advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek H. Murthy stated, “the coronavirus pandemic intensified a rise in adolescent depression, anxiety, and mental health distress that was underway before the spring of 2020.”

His report cited significant increases in adolescent self-reports of depression and anxiety along with more emergency room visits for mental health issues. Girls were specifically vulnerable, Dr. Murthy continued, noting that emergency room visits for suicide attempts rose 51% for adolescent girls in early 2021 (compared with the same period in 2019), and only 4% for adolescent boys.

The reasons are complex, but a 2021 report in The Lancet Psychiatry emphasizes the devastating impact the stress and isolation of the pandemic has had on youth: “…adolescents are affected far more than any age group, as many of them depend upon social interaction and activities to attain contentment.” Lockdowns and physical distancing mandates also disrupted the developmental connections youth gain from school – social, emotional, and educational – and created the loss of important milestones such as first jobs or graduation celebrations).

As well, screen time may be displacing activities vital to physical and mental health, including exercise, sleep, and in-person activity, causing increased levels of loneliness. Recent research found that the feeling of loneliness is a key predictor for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation (Oregon Health and Science University).

In addition to the emotional and mental health challenges brought by the pandemic, students are left behind academically, according to The Washington Post, which reported that nationally administered assessment i-Ready, found significant declines in student performance during 2020. Among its findings, I-Ready noted “fewer students are on grade level in reading this fall (2021) compared to historical averages,” with the same conclusion in measures of mathematics performance.

During and since the pandemic lockdown, GirlPower high school mentors have been meeting virtually with each week and throughout the summer, giving and receiving emotional support, improving communication skills, and preparing to mentor younger girls virtually. During both 2020 and 2021, GirlPower mentors continued to meet, learn, and support each other, guided by Brooke and assisted by Carrie.

To address reported myriad mental health challenges caused by the pandemic, and because of continued stresses including family tension, economic hardship, and increasing screen time, Chrysalis has expanded the GirlPower peer mentor curriculum and training to emphasize self-expression and communication, coping skills, resilience, self-efficacy, and connections to community.

GirlPower mentors are better equipped to work with younger girls, helping them develop the knowledge and skills to navigate the current environment and prepare for their future lives with strong coping and communication skills, resilience, and optimism.

Success is being measured through per- and post-testing, adult observation, and focus groups based on several factors including:

  • knowledge and practice of communication and coping skills
  • knowledge and identification of feelings of depression and/or anxiety in self and others
  • knowledge and identification of appropriate resources for help and assistance
  • knowledge and identification of unhealthy attitudes and/or behaviors in self and/or others
  • knowledge and practice of communication skills, ability to express feelings
  • knowledge and practice of coping skills and problem solving
  • ability to identify future plans indicating hope and optimism
  • school success measured by attendance and office referrals

Our program evaluator will monitor younger Chrysalis After-School participants and school-based program leaders to determine the effect of this training on younger girls, on mentors, and on adult program leaders. Program modifications will be made as needed to ensure girls’ and young women’s mental health, resilience, hope most effectively for the future, and for their life success.

This program and its results will continue to create the long-term changes in lives of both mentors and CAS participants and is just one of the ways our work is responsive to the needs of girls and women in our community. We truly do understand what is happening in the lives of girls, and we remain committed to assuring their future success.