The State of Youth Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in different ways over the last two years. During Governor Scott’s State of the State address, he talked about how in order to grow stronger we must be clear about the challenges we face, the problems we must solve, and the people and places that need our help most. He acknowledged that our youth are a population that has been greatly impacted as a result of the pandemic. 

As a part of our new series, Vermont Voices: Stories for Change we interviewed a local high school student about their experiences with the pandemic and how it affected their mental health as well as its impact on their high school experience. This is just one part of one story.

What grade are you in? 
I am a senior.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your high school experience in the last 2 years?
Going remote during the second half of my sophomore year was not super easy at first because I got really behind in my school work. I think I felt like I didn't need to do it because I wasn’t at school. It got easier in my junior year because my schedule was more flexible and I could do my work on my own time. I was also taking fewer classes my junior year. This year it never really felt like we settled back in so there is always a sense of chaos. It's very hard to relax because I feel like I’m always on edge. I don't think things will ever go back to normal but it is very hard to focus on school when you are living in a time of mayhem.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your mental health in the last 2 years?
I have always had issues with anxiety from a young age, but my anxiety got worse as I got older. In August of 2021, I started feeling really anxious and paranoid about the pandemic and I think part of it was going back to school in person. I felt like other people did not understand what I was going through so it was hard for me to confide in others about what was going on.

What is one thing that has helped you with your academic challenges brought on by the pandemic?
When I have classes that give time for me to complete work in class and do not over-assign homework that really helps me. I think that students are going through a lot when they get home from school and it is hard to complete extra work to do on top of it.

What is one thing that has helped you with your mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic?
Right around the time that we went back to school last year (2021), I was starting to feel like I could not handle my anxiety on my own and so I told my parents that I felt like I needed more help. This led to me talking to my doctor and then I was able to find a therapist in October 2021. I started to see her weekly, and then every two weeks and now I see her once a month. This has helped me by being able to talk to someone that I didn't know personally but could still empathize with me. My therapist started to help me feel like I could cope with my panic attacks and this has been a huge help.

While this is just one part of one teen’s story, the obstacles they faced during the pandemic have been echoed across Addison County and all of Vermont. According to a survey conducted by The Vermont Youth Project, 70% of youth said that the COVID-19 pandemic has made their anxiety/worry, mood, or loneliness “a little” or “a lot” worse. 45.5% of high schoolers have said that COVID has made their mental health worse. 57% of 11th and 12th graders have said that COVID has hurt their educational experience. Not to mention substance use rates among high school students are relatively high, particularly with alcohol, cannabis, and vaping. 

Find the data here: Vermont Youth Project Survey

The State of the State left us hopeful as Scott declared an allocation of $258 million in recovery dollars to address social, emotional, and educational gaps caused by the pandemic. He also stated that COVID-19 is not our only public health challenge. The mental health of many Vermonters is at risk. These investments in mental health services are critical for Vermont youth to remain focused. Prioritizing mental health like we prioritize physical health increases a student's likelihood to be successful, now and after high school. “Safe communities start with strong communities,” Governor Scott said, and the future of our communities lies with our kids.