Young People and Mental Health During a Pandemic

  • May 7, 2020, 5:15 p.m.

By Ashley Trautman

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While awareness of and attention to mental health is always important, it is becoming increasingly visible as we encounter the stresses of the current public health crisis. Though available data shows young people may not be as at risk for COVID-19 as adults, we know that they are still vulnerable to the mental health impacts of this global crisis (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], n.d.). Combined with the fear and worry about the health of loved ones, youth may be experiencing grief associated with the loss of normalcy that the current crisis is creating. Disruption in routines such as school and daily interaction with friends can cause stress and anxiety. In addition, youth may grieve the loss of participating in significant life events such as graduation, cultural ceremonies, the final season of their sports career and the list goes on.

Identifying the unique ways young people experience and express their emotions during these unprecedented times may help support their inherent resiliency. While there is significant variability in how we manifest emotions, for children and youth, stressful reactions during this time might include: regressive behaviors, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, acting out, poor school performance or avoiding school, difficulty with attention or concentration, avoiding activities enjoyed in the past, unexplained body aches or use of substances (CDC, n.d.). In general, any changes in youth’s normal behavior may be due to the emotional impact of the current circumstances. Creating opportunity to explore emotional reactions may help youth identify and name their feelings.

There are a number of ways to support young people during this time. While the specific approach may vary depending on age, supporting young people in staying physically active, maintaining routine and expressing their emotions may support their mental wellness and serve as a protective factor against the stress and worry of the current moment. In addition, and as is especially true for tribal communities, “our relationships are the primary way we gather information, understand our lives and heal” (National Indian Child Welfare Association, n.d.). In a time when physical distancing is crucial to maintaining healthy communities, finding others ways for youth to maintain connection is important.


Finally, when our communities begin to emerge from lockdowns and shelter in place orders, it’s possible that with relief comes new challenges. We do not yet know what our new normal may look like and how much it does or does not resemble our lives of only a few months ago. We may continue to experience stress or anxiety related to lingering fears for the health of loved ones or adjusting to ongoing restrictions as communities continue to work towards preventing spread of the virus. Because young people are sensitive to the stress experienced by caregivers, as much as possible, consider finding ways to take care of yourself during this time (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, n.d.). Physical activity, eating well, connecting with others and connecting to culture may all be strategies to support your mental well-being and in turn, that of the young people in your life.



National Indian Child Welfare Association (n.d.). Retrieved from

National Child Traumatic Stress Network (n.d.). Retrieved from

Center for Disease Control (n.d.). Retrieved from



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