Mental Health Issues Surge in Light of Pandemic


Makayla Erickson

Students’ mental health has shifted dramatically over the past year.

After almost 1 full semester of in-person school, it seems that things are getting as “normal” as they ever will be. The halls are filled to the brim, much beloved sporting events have restarted, and dances and pep rallies continue to be planned.

Despite all this, some things may never be the same. There will always be long lasting effects from the year of school closures and lockdowns that were in place to fight the pandemic. 1 stark area of difference that I have seen in contrast with pre-pandemic life is the worsening mental health of students.

The isolation of last year has had long lasting impacts for students. According to the American Psychological Association, the amount of teens aged 13-19 that were in need of mental health screenings jumped from 15% in 2019 to 32% in September 2020. Even with reopenings and the distribution of life-saving vaccines and therapeutics, this number has only continued to increase, jumping to 34% in September 2021.

More starkly, the number of drug overdoses, especially among teen users, has skyrocketed. According to the Center for Disease Control, from April 2020 to April 2021, there were an estimated 100,306 deaths from opioids, an increase of 28.5% from the year prior. The share of teen deaths in this group rose from just 9% from 2019 to 2020 to 13% from 2020 to 2021. The preliminary data from April to October 2021 shows that these trends are stabilizing, with 12% of opioid deaths being teens, on par with 2020’s data.

The number of adolescents being placed on psychiatric hold has also experienced significant increase. The number of California residents being 5150ed, a process in which a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis is involuntarily detained when evaluated to be a danger to others or themselves, increased 4% from 2020 to 2021, according to the California Department of Healthcare Services. However, this increase was almost solely driven by minors, as the number of 5-18 year olds placed on psychiatric hold in California increased a whopping 18%.

Teens themselves are also crying out loud for help. The use of the app Talkspace, an online and mobile therapy company, has had substantial growth of young users. Teens all across the country have also organized to increase funding for mental health services at the state and federal levels.

Unfortunately, many of these trends are most clearly found in the United States. According to a cross-sectional study of wealthy nations, the United States was the only country to have a drastic surge in mental health issues. This is despite the fact that many of these countries had stricter lockdowns than ours. The lockdowns were not inherently the problem, the lack of mental health services and the government’s failures to support us teens were to blame.

These facts are truly heartbreaking, especially because the swell of the mental health epidemic continues to this day and could be prevented. Despite all that is improving in our new world, there has been only a worsening of mental health problems. According to Psychology Today, people with access to therapists, and with loving parents have a 70% reduction in depression and an over 85% reduction in depression. Schools that take a more serious approach to mental health, with use of proactive care, also have better health outcomes.

Although the facts are dire, we can make effectual change. The culpability is on us all: students, educators, parents and all members of the general public. It’s time for the hard work to begin, to fix America’s mental health system and protect teens. We must lobby school and government officials at all levels to increase funding for mental health support systems. We must take care of each other and start building stronger communities and take care of each other. We must educate others about mental health. These things won’t be easy, but we must try and try for this future generation.