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Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic On The Mental Health of Teenagers Across Asia

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The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). In the past two years, all Asian countries have gone into periodic lockdowns to curb the rapid spread of COVID-19. In many jurisdictions, the lockdowns have stopped students from going to school or universities, forcing them to adopt the home learning model instead. The constant lockdowns and uncertainties have put immense mental pressure on teenagers across Asia. 

Prevalence of mental health issues due to COVID-19 pandemic

Very limited data is available on how bad the situation is:

  • In Indonesia, it has been estimated more than 30% of students have signs of depression in varying degrees.
  • A South Korean poll in September 2020 found more than 40% of people said their mental health has worsened since the COVID-10 outbreak.
  • A 2021 research paper found that nearly 30-45% of children and adolescents in China might show anxiety and depression problems. 

How does COVID bring mental pressure to teens?

  • Uncertainty: the biggest source of worry is the uncertainty of policy changes, especially for students in their final year of study preparing for national exams. Policies usually change overnight with very short notice, and students must adapt their living and learning accordingly. However, this is always easier said than done. 
  • Isolation: prior to COVID-19, students are adapted to the school environment, where they have constant interactions with classmates, teachers and school staff. For most time of the day, they are surrounded by friends and families. However, when lockdowns struck, the home learning model drastically reduced their ability to interact with other students and many students have complained they have no one to talk to after class.
    Meanwhile, jurisdictions with harsh lockdown rules have restricted the number of reasons people are allowed to go outdoors. Community sports for teenagers are usually banned. 
  • Poor home learning environment: many parts of Asia is still considered underdeveloped, with limited Internet access. Students living in those regions would frequently miss class and fall behind on assignments. 
  • Getting COVID-19: like people in other age groups, teens are equally worried about contracting COVID-19. At the early stage of vaccine rollout, teenagers under the age of 18 were generally excluded as well. Meanwhile, they might have weaker immunity compared to adults. In school settings, a usual class could have 20 to 60 students with very limited social distance. It would be unimaginable if even just one student was infected. 

What are the signs of mental disease?

Signs of mental disease in teenagers are very similar to that of adults. If you or your kids have the following symptoms, seek professional help as soon as possible. 

  • Changes in sleep
  • New onset of guilt
  • Changes in energy level
  • Changes in concentration
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in motivation
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Lack of interest in friends, hobbies

What can teenagers do to prevent mental health disorders?

Mental health issues are common even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. A recent 2021 study in China has shown that both better nutritional status and moderate to high exercise levels are protective factors for depression and anxiety. A high exercise level was significantly associated with a lower level of insomnia symptoms. 

Many other habits to keep in mind include: 

  • Keep in touch with friends, even just over the phone or online
  • Arrange sessions with school mental health counsellors: you do not need to have mental health disorders to talk to them. 
  • Learn to relax
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

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