4 high school students talk about mental health and how the epidemic has changed them

“It was something I was constantly worried about,” he said. “I was also afraid to move in class. I was just sitting there, and I didn’t move because I was worried about what they were thinking about me.”

When school was online, Ruby, then a teenager, was self-conscious about showing her home on camera. Her two siblings also switched to distance learning, making it difficult to find a quiet place to concentrate – she often lost focus during zoom classes. During remote school, he says, “I learned nothing.”

Ruby was not alone. In the first few months of the epidemic, two-thirds of U.S. students in grades nine through 12 told the CDC that they were having difficulty finishing school.

One of the ups and downs of the remote school is that it creates some distance between Ruby and a friendship that she describes as toxic.

“He was the only person I really knew, so I felt safe around him,” Ruby explained. “But at the same time, I didn’t really feel safe because the people he was chatting with weren’t my people.”

Things changed for the better in Ruby’s second year, when her school was transformed into a hybrid education and she decided to give up that friendship. She started dating three people who are now her best friends.

“I left a toxic friendship, I explored myself more.” He says. “I would say [the pandemic] It definitely made me a stronger person. “

Teja, 18: “The lack of structure has made me emotional.”

When his Seattle High School closed in March 2020, Tejar’s world began to disintegrate. Her jazz choir trips and swimming practice were canceled, her clubs were limited to zoom meetings, and her whole life was concentrated in her family home.

Teja, then a sophomore, was diagnosed with anorexia in her high school year, and when the epidemic hit, she recovered. NPR is not using his last name to protect his privacy in the vicinity of his anorexia.

“School was a huge inspiration for me, because … being on track for recovery is because school is something I love. I love learning. It’s really important to me and it was only possible if I ate,” Teja said. “And then suddenly the school was canceled.”

Those first months of the epidemic were extremely volatile for other teenage girls, including those with a fever and an eating disorder. The CDC observed that in 2020 and 2021, the proportion of emergency room visits for eating disorders among adolescent girls increased.

Teja is re-attacked and his family is targeted. After a difficult conversation with her father about how to get to the hospital, Teja called a friend who spoke to her. “It’s not right to scare you, but on the other hand, that’s the reality,” he said. “

He says the conversation was a wake-up call.

“I realized I could be happy and build if I made it for myself. So I made a schedule and I set goals,” Teja said.

In the summer of 2020, she began walking daily with her dog, planning outdoor meetups with friends, and writing regular music – all in addition to regular meetings with her psychiatrist. Eventually, he was healthy enough to join an outdoor swimming team practice at nearby Lake Washington.

“It was a lot of fun to be back in the water and back with my teammates. So these things helped me understand why I want to continue recovering.”

But that grounding did not last long. When distance learning continued in his junior year in the fall of 2020, he said, “I became more concerned about school than I had ever been before.”

“I’m very perfectionist,” Teja explains, “and lack of structure leads me to become obsessed.”

Things that usually bring him pleasure, such as rehearsing with a jazz choir, his classmates would not feel the same without singing alongside him. “I think the primary thing was isolation. There was no one to catch me from the spiral.”

In the autumn of 2020, Teja’s worries continue to worsen. That’s when the convulsions begin – sometimes more than 10 a day. “I couldn’t leave the house,” he says.

Three weeks after his first convulsion, he was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called functional neurological disorder that can be triggered by things like anxiety, stress and trauma.

“It was a really, really hard few months because I couldn’t do anything. You can’t see friends without convulsions. My friends were on speed dial for my parents to zoom convulsions.”

She and her family had to move to Colorado for treatment in February 2021 – and the treatment helped. His convulsions began to subside, and this past fall, he returned to private class for the first time since the epidemic began. She says it’s weird to come back to school, but it’s good.

“On my first day of school, my schedule went awry and I think it’s an unusual experience. Like, it’s been so long since I had a little problem, ‘Oh, my schedule is wrong.'”

Teja has also been able to return to some of the activities he likes the most. He says a return to some normalcy has helped him recover from everything during the epidemic.

“I was able to do a live production Alice in Wonderland. And this, to me, was the first time I was: It’s important that I’m here. For example, if I get sick and I can’t stay here, things will happen. And that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that way in my high school experience. “

Alex, 16: “I was asking myself, ‘Am I a man? I don’t look like a normal person.’ “

Epidemic isolation was a mixed bag for Alex, who lives in northern Minnesota.

On the one hand, isolation has worsened much of the fight he has already had around mental health. Alex, now a junior, was sexually abused in middle school and later developed anxiety, depression and PTSD. NPR is not using Alex’s last name to protect his privacy as a minor.

She hoped quarantine at home would make her feel safer and less paranoid. But it did not happen.

“Really, if anything, it’s made it worse,” he said. He seems to be trapped, and he is constantly worried that his abuser will find him.

Alex had plenty of time to think while sitting at home. She began to look deeper into the questions she had about her gender identity. “I was asking myself, ‘Am I a man? I don’t look like a normal person. I don’t behave like other trans people I see online or at school,'” he recalls.

After months of thinking, he began to identify as a trans man.

Then, in the spring of 2020, at the end of his new year, he began seeing a new therapist through a telehealth appointment, which he preferred over personal therapy. She was able to get therapy from the security of her bed. “All your comfortable items are there.”

This helped him to open up in a new way.

“I’m starting to get a little bolder. I’m starting to express what I was feeling,” he explained.

“It was like a jingle. Once one thing fell, everything else started falling. There was a sound like vomit.”

In the fall of 2020, Alex began his second year in person at a new school. “I was basically like, ‘Look, this is a fresh start.’ “

He reconnected with an old friend, who quickly became his best friend. “We’re at a point where we can just sit still and one of us will start laughing randomly, and the other will know what we’re already laughing at,” he said. They like to hang out and do each other’s makeup – Alex enjoys cosplay.

But recovery is not always a straight line. In October 2021, Alex was hospitalized after trying to take his own life. According to the CDC, in the first few months of the epidemic, 1 in 5 U.S. high school students considered suicide attempts seriously and 9% attempted suicide.

Since his hospitalization, Alex has been working with his therapist to find healthy coping methods to process his traumas, such as “drawing, concentrating on school work and getting into more community.”

At the moment, he says he’s “doing pretty well. I’m stressed, but I’m a high school student, so it’s inevitable. I’m working on my trauma, but trauma processing is your whole life. You just have to learn new ways to deal with it.”

Daniela Rivera, 17: “I’ve Lost All Inspiration”

Daniela Rivera enjoys learning, and she likes to stay in school – but not so much when she doesn’t understand the material that made school so difficult for her during the epidemic. In March 2020, Daniela was in her high school new year at Cottonwood, Ariz. At first, her school’s distance learning option did not include live instruction, only optional work packets – which Daniella did not.

That autumn, his school began using online lessons from an educational institution. Daniela found herself alone in her room, clicking on pre-recorded video for hours without any real teacher.

“I didn’t get much. I gave up completely,” Daniela said. “Every day I would just stay in my bed. I would wake up … stay in my bed at school and just get up to eat.”

Her motivation for school work changed immediately. “I was behind in all my classes. I used to play [remote learning] Video … and go to the living room and talk to my mom during the video. I’m coming 30 minutes later and the video is still playing I lost all inspiration. “

“[The pandemic] It has taken me to a mentality where, for example, I am stuck in this house and I can do nothing. And as such, I have some things I can do outside, but I felt like I couldn’t even open the front door. “

According to the CDC, 2 out of 5 adolescents suffered from poor mental health during the epidemic. Daniela also struggled with something like that. In the evenings, she would facetime with her boyfriend and talk about how the days started to fade together.

She had a part-time job as a restaurant hostess on weekends and that job made it difficult for her to maintain her friendship because all her friends worked shifts on weekdays.

In 2020, when her school started offering a hybrid option in its second year fall semester, Daniela was excited. But it was not the same. Her lessons were still the same pre-recorded video. He would sit in the classroom all day, separated from the other students by rows of tables, with a teacher overseeing him while watching from the laptop.

Returning to school has not made it easier for her to keep in touch with her friends – they have chosen to be completely online to keep their jobs.

“[I’m] Undoubtedly sad because they … have become strangers to being one of the people closest to me. I don’t know how they are, I don’t know what they are doing, I don’t know what happened in their lives. “

The situation has improved since the spring of 2021 when schools returned to regular regular, private learning. But Daniela, who is back in business normally, realizes how much she has changed in the epidemic. “I’ve always been a shy, calm person. But I still feel calm and shy.”

He also noticed that the words did not seem to move as easily from his tongue as they used to, especially when he was called to class. “In all of this, my fear of talking to the public has gotten worse because I haven’t spoken to anyone out loud.”

He is grateful for one thing: the last two years have given him time and space to get to know himself better. In epidemic isolation, she discovers that she likes to go fishing with her boyfriend and is now a big fan of indie music.