The Impact of COVID-19 on Young Adults

The following article was written by NRC intern, Grant Lumkong.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of high school and college students were faced with mental and emotional challenges by distance learning. As a high school senior, I often struggled looking at my computer screen for 6-10 hours a day feeling unmotivated and dismal. Teachers and professors trying their best, but facing the daunting task to make virtual learning an engaging and supportive environment. As a result, many students are struggling.

To better understand the scope of the problem, I attended a webinar which presented the most recent research on this topic. The webinar, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Young Adults,” was facilitated by Regis High School in New York. The speakers were psychologists Dr. Frank Golom ’00, Associate Professor of Applied Psychology at Loyola University Maryland, and Dr. Gabriel Velez ’03, Assistant Professor and Developmental Psychologist at Marquette University.

Dr. Gabriel Velez discussed his inquiry into how youth, primarily high school students, are coping with the online learning and limited social interaction. He created a national qualitative survey, interviewing over 1,000 high school students. Most students addressed complaints about the distance-learning model, stating that the pandemic lowered their confidence socially and created a sense of anger and frustration around school. One student mentioned, “Of course it [Coronavirus] is affecting my life. I hate losing touch with my friends. I was happy and becoming more confident. Coronavirus took everything away from me.” Other students noted that it is extremely difficult to stay engaged and the content is not very entertaining. Dr. Velez found that many students were anxious about the uncertainty of the job market, especially college students. The skepticism of finding a steady job out of school increased stress and depression among college students.

In a survey done by the national non-profit Chegg on 1,000 high school and college students, almost 25% reported they knew a peer who developed suicidal thoughts since the start of the pandemic and .5% reported making a suicide attempt themselves since COVID-19 began. In addition, 53% of college students and 62% of high school students reported increased stress since the start of the pandemic, 48% and 51% experienced anxiety, and 33% and 38% suffered depression. These statistics are consistent with the findings in Dr. Velez’s qualitative study. It poses the question–What kind of mental health resources can schools and parents provide to ensure that their kids are mentally and emotionally stable?

To find the answer to this question, psychologist Frank Golom conducted a study at Loyola University to determine the best possible plan for bringing students back to campus. He also provided an opportunity for college students to express concerns on the gradual return to class. The results revealed that many students complained about the limited mental health resources provided. Results from the Chegg survey confirmed this concern, as only 43% of the college group and 40% of the high school group said their school provided mental health resources. “The fact that significant numbers of students are experiencing stress, anxiety, and depression and do not feel comfortable seeking help from their professors or teachers, or their college or school counseling services, demonstrates that students are not receiving the support they deserve,” says Lila Thomas, the director of social impact at Chegg. It is no coincidence that Dr. Golom’s results have a high correlation to the Chegg study. It is imperative that schools offer mental health resources such as counselors and office hours during a time as stressful as COVID-19.

Dr. Golom asserted that parents must play an active role in keeping their children on track. Parents must acknowledge that with remote learning, this is a difficult time for their child, and try to create new activities and bonding experiences. “Find things you can do at home, like spending time talking with each other. It may cost working around your schedule but it is important to strengthen and have a healthy relationship with your child.” Students tend to spend most of their social interactions virtually through social media platforms like Tiktok, Snapchat, and Instagram. Golom believes these apps don’t provide sufficient interaction for students’ mental health. He urges parents to think about how they can create sparks to get children to have meaningful social interaction.

Golom’s final advice was to not draw attention to people who are rejecting social distancing guidelines. Families should foster a sense of efficacy and have the expectation that children will make a good decision. Parents must create boundaries while also allowing their children to have some freedom. It will ultimately create a healthy relationship and establish a sense of trust and confidence.

The pandemic has led to unprecedented change in many lives. With the technology available to us, we must learn to adapt to and reimagine the many traditions of high school and college (prom, graduation, sports, etc.). When youth come out of this pandemic, they will have added insight in overcoming adversity and, hopefully, will have gained a different perspective of the world. While challenging, this pandemic experience will very likely produce innovators and resilient leaders who will bring a unique experience to create meaningful change in the future.

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