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COVID-19: UNICEF Guidelines On Mental Health For Teenagers

Since its advent in December 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused 3,227,188 deaths, affecting over 154,195,608 people. COVID-19 can affect anyone, causing symptoms ranging from mild to very severe, where some people may be more likely to have severe illness than others because they have characteristics or medical conditions that increase their risk [1].

People of any age with certain underlying medical conditions such as cancer, COPD, chronic kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity etc. are at increased risk [2]. The best way to protect yourself and to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 is to limit your interactions with other people as much as possible and taking the necessary precautions such as using a mask, social distancing and sanitising to prevent getting COVID-19 when you do interact with others.

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Teenagers, The Pandemic And Mental Health

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for all of us, including children and teenagers. Being a teenager amidst all this chaos can make it hard; with social gatherings and school events cancelled, you can feel low as you are missing out on some of the biggest moments of your 'fun' times.

Parents and caregivers should talk to teenagers at home. They should create a space where they can ask you their concerns relating to the pandemic. 'Am I safe?' 'is my family safe?' 'how will the pandemic affect my daily life?' are some of the common doubts looming in the mind of the children, reports suggest.

Several mental health experts and adolescent psychologists have pointed out, "for teenagers facing life changes due to the outbreak who are feeling anxious, isolated and disappointed, know this: you are not alone" [3].

UNICEF has provided six strategies for teens facing the new (temporary) normal. Let's take a look.

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1. Anxiety Is Normal

If the news and headlines are causing you to worry, do know that you are not the only one. As studies point out, low levels of anxiety are normal and a healthy function that alerts us to threats and helps us take measures to protect ourselves [4]. That is, your anxiety can help you choose the right decisions, such as staying away from large groups of people, washing your hands regularly, and avoiding direct contact with anyone.

However, while a certain level of anxiety may be good (for some people), keep in mind the following things:

  • Get your information from the most credible sources such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization's sites, or doctors.
  • Please talk with your support system; it could be your parents, a friend, a trusted adult, a close relative, or your siblings.
  • Take care of your physical health by practising meditation, yoga, listening to music [5].
  • Get a good amount of sleep and exercise [6].
  • If you are worried that you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to speak to your parents.
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    Note: Keep in mind that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults.

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2. Focus On Yourself

As you can see around, this is one of those times where you can start that book you've been keeping aside for months, learn a new skill, or spend some quality time with yourself and your thoughts. Focusing on yourself and finding ways to use your new-found time is a productive way to support your mental health during difficult times. Make a list of things you want to do, such as decorating your room, painting that old chair, or starting a small vegetable garden on your balcony [7].

Note: It is entirely OKAY if you haven't had any time to learn something new. Do not be hard on yourself.

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3. Create Distractions

As mental health experts suggest, one can try to manage their difficult conditions by dividing the problem into two categories: things I can do something about and things I can do nothing about. Know that most things happening around us, such as school shutting down, online exams, beginning school year virtually etc. are not in your control and that is okay. Mental health experts suggest that creating distractions for yourselves can be helpful in such cases [8][9]. Doing homework, watching your favourite movie, etc. can help find balance in the day-to-day.

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4. Do Not Suppress Your Feeling And Emotions

Being a teenager is not easy. I know it, we all know it. And being one amidst all this chaos can be quite suffocating; the reports suggest so [10]. Missing out on things, such as a party with your friends, sports events, art classes, etc. can be disappointing. Adult psychologists say that "missing out of such events are large-scale losses for teenagers. They're really upsetting and rightly so to teenagers" [11].

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It is entirely natural to feel sad at a time like this (any time, for that matter). When you are feeling low due to missing out, do not hold your feelings in, feel them as they can help you feel better faster [12]. Not all teenagers cope the same way, of course. Try talking to your friends, as shared sadness can be used as a way to feel connected in a time when you cannot be together in person, helping someone in need (such as your old neighbour) or if art is your release, draw away.

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5. Do Not Skip On Your Friends

While you may not see them every day like you used to, you can still connect with your friends while you're practising physical distancing. In a world bound by technological innovations, keeping in touch with your friends should not be a problem [13]. Find new ways to connect with your friends, make use of social media, have group sessions, and such.

Note: Experts add that, while screen time with friends can help with anxiety levels, having unfettered access to screens and or social media will NOT be suitable for anxiety levels. Work out a screen-time schedule with your parents and stick to it.

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6. Be Kind

In a world where you can be anything, be KIND, said Joseph Maley - the young man who accepted all without judgment and the reason behind the Joseph Maley Foundation. Since the pandemic's advent, there have been thousands of reports of hate crimes and bullying, even among students. Kids and teenagers who are targeted should not be expected to confront bullies. Instead, they should be encouraged to turn to friends or adults for help and support [14].

Note: If your friend or any classmate is being bullied, reach out to them and try to offer support. Keep in mind that your words can make a difference, so choose the right ones - especially at a time like this.

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On A Final Note…

Doctors add that, how one responds to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on factors such as their background, social support from family or friends, financial situation, health and emotional background, and the community one lives in.

Do not forget that many of the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated. Let your parents or a trusted adult know if you are not feeling well, or if you are worried about the virus.

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List Of Mental Health Helplines

Use these services which provides listening and emotional support to anyone in distress.

NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences) is the first institute in India to start a helpline inclusively for Psychosocial support and mental health services during disasters. It is a 24 x 7 toll-free helpline.

  • NIMHANS:080 - 4611 0007
  • COOJ Mental Health Foundation (COOJ): 0832-2252525 | 01:00 PM - 07:00 PM | Monday to Friday
  • Parivarthan:+91 7676 602 602 | 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM | Monday to Friday
  • Connecting Trust: +91 992 200 1122 | +91-992 200 4305 | 12:00 PM to 08:00 PM | All days of the week
  • Roshni Trust: 040-66202000, 040-66202001 | 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM | Monday to Sunday
  • Sahai: 080-25497777 | 10 AM- 8 PM Monday To Saturday | sahaihelpline@gmail.com
  • Sumaitri:011-23389090 | feelingsuicidal@sumaitri.net | 2 PM- 10 PM Monday To Friday; 10 AM - 10 PM Saturday And Sunday
  • Sneha: 044-24640050 (24 HOURS) | 044-24640060 8 AM - 10 PM |help@snehaindia.org
  • Lifeline: lifelinekolkata@gmail.com - 033-24637401 | 033-24637432 | 10 AM - 6 PM
Read more about: covid 19 mental health teenagers