Social Distancing Takes Toll on Adolescents

February 22, 2021

News

Warning: This article mentions mental illness, self-harm and suicide

Adolescents who do have social stimuli can be at risk for various stress disorders. Image by Danielle Littlefield

By Peyton Perez

Although social distancing is helping to save many lives by slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it will likely leave long-lasting effects on the adolescents who are involved in it.

According to The Lancet, adolescence is a very vital time in a person’s life that is characterized by growth and development and a heightened sensitivity to social stimuli. The need for social interaction increases among adolescence and the individual will become much more sensitive to peer acceptance, rejection and approval. Since a heightened sensitivity to social stimuli occurs during adolescence, it helps improve social cognitive processes that are often used during adulthood. If social deprivation is introduced into an adolescent’s life, it not only can disrupt and impair the developing cognitive processes, but it can affect their neurobiology, cognition, behavior and cause mental illness. 

According to PubMed Central, “social interactions are proposed to be a basic human need, analogous to other fundamental needs such as food consumption or sleep. Indeed, feeling insufficiently connected to others is associated with profound and lasting negative consequences on physical and mental health, even leading to increased mortality.” 

Due to the COVID-19 virus, countries all over the world have had to introduce social distancing measures to keep the virus under control and slow its spread. Since adolescents are being told to stay at home and away from their peers, many haven’t been able to have effective social interactions and since socialization is such a vital part of an adolescent’s life, this can be damaging to their brain and affect their behavior. It is very likely that if an adolescent spends an extensive amount of time without effective social interaction, symptoms of depression and anxiety may occur, as well as negative alterations in serotonin levels.

The development of these mental illnesses and the alterations of bodily chemicals can have their own dangerous and damaging effects on an adolescent’s health. For example, a chemical imbalance in serotonin could cause multiple mental illnesses and disorders and increased the symptoms of depression which may increase the prevalence of self-harm and possibly raise suicide rates. 

It isn’t only social distancing that can have long term effects on an adolescent’s life. Studies have shown that the COVID-19 virus itself has had many negative impacts and has been linked to increased symptoms of PTSD. These symptoms could arise from the constant threat of death because of the virus, contracting the virus itself and losing a loved one, among other things. Symptoms of agoraphobia are also likely to increase. “Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed,” according to The Mayo Clinic. It is also likely that stress levels may also increase due to paranoia about the pandemic which can lead to stress disorders. 

Eighth-grade scholar at The ASK Academy, James Hepker, Jr. can agree that his life has largely been affected by COVID-19. Hepker has noticed difficulty in falling asleep as well as getting good quality sleep. “I have had a history of sleeping very badly but it’s been worse than ever these past two months. I get about six or seven hours of sleep on a good day, sometimes I stay up the entire night.” 

It isn’t only Hepker’s sleep schedule that he’s been struggling with. He has had trouble keeping in touch with his friends and keeping up with conversations. Luckily, Hepker has been able to continue communicating with a few of his friends over the phone and through video games. “I am very into games so that’s one way I can meet new people and talk to my friends.” He also hasn’t experienced any negative changes in his mental health and he even said that COVID-19 helped him realize what he could improve upon and what he could do to fix some issues in his life. 

Skylar Morales, a senior at The ASK Academy, has also had her life majorly affected by the COVID-19 virus. Similar to Hepker’s situation, Morales has had trouble staying in touch with all of her friends and communicating with them every day. “I have a lot of really good friends at school that I used to talk to so much, but now I don’t talk to them. I don’t think I’ve talked to a couple of those friends in like a month because it’s just so hard to text all the time.” 

Morales, on top of having trouble socially, has also noticed that she has increased anxiety and sadness. She found that these heightened symptoms of anxiety and feelings of sadness are tied to the fact that she is missing out on aspects of her senior year since school is online. “Doing my senior year by myself, applying to colleges by myself, isolated, it’s just a lot worse than I feel like it would be any other year.” Being disconnected from her friends as well as missing out on aspects of her senior year that she has been looking forward to for years has put a toll on her mental health and she wishes that she could spend her senior year differently. 

Although some adolescents will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic with behavioral or psychological effects, others might have little to no effects and live similar lives to those before the pandemic.

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