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A tough time for teenagers

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Like a lot of teens, Lilly DeCouto has spent the past 13 years working towards one goal — university.

When Covid-19 hit, her final examinations were cancelled.

“Two years of work have just gone out the window,” the 17-year-old Bermuda High School student said. “Having no end goal has been hard. It has been very frustrating.”

Some of her classmates have been struggling with the forced isolation. Now, Ms DeCouto spends a lot of her day video chatting.

She is not feeling depressed or anxious, but some of her friends are.

Family therapist Latisha Lister-Burgess thinks that of all the age groups, the class of 2020 might be particularly vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

“All the rites of passage they have worked for all this time have disappeared in a minute,” said the executive director of the Employee Assistance Programme. “That is a blow.”

Ms Lister-Burgess thought teenagers were particularly at risk, because of their heavy social media usage.

“They may not be following the government press bulletins, but they may be listening to every voice note, podcast and conspiracy theory,” Ms Burgess-Lister said.

Ms DeCouto, did not completely agree with that.

“We do like our conspiracy theories,” she said. “But we've been taught to research the information that's out there.”

Warning signs of anxiety are racing thoughts, chest tightness, and insomnia. Warning signs of depression include intense sadness, not being able to get out of bed in the morning, and a feeling of disconnection.

“In the last week alone, we have had clients call for a variety of reasons attached to Covid-19,” she said.

“Many of them are feeling anxious. Some aren't coping well with working from home for the first time.”

Ms Lister-Burgess thinks a lot of people are overwhelmed by the amount of information they are getting about Covid-19.

“I think our level of anxiety right now is raised by the constant saturation of news, and often inaccurate or negative news,” she said.

“Before this, maybe you listened to the nightly news once in a while or got your news from reputable sources. But now everyone is getting so much information and most is not reputable, so that puts people on edge.”

Ms Lister-Burgess said it was important to put limitations on your media exposure.

“We can't be listening 24 hours to Covid-19 stories all over the globe and then be confused about why our anxiety levels are high,” she said.

“Maybe set a time limit. I allow myself maybe 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening, so I have time to digest the information, and get back to the rest of my day so I am not living in that anxiety space all day.”

She said the current crisis was a threat to people's mental health, whether or not they previously struggled with anxiety and depression.

“We are all outside of our daily routine,” she said. “We are making all of these adjustments, and a lot of them are happening in a quick way, in a constantly moving situation.

“For someone who does not do well with change, this is going to be hard. If you're someone who doesn't do well with technology, this will be hard. If you are someone who struggles with working unsupervised this may be hard.”

She suggested that people working and studying from home build in breaks during the day. Parents taking care of children can tag team it, so that each parent gets some time to relax. Try to follow your normal routine as much as possible.

She said even young children were not immune to coronavirus stress. “I have two small ones,” she said. “I have noticed they are more clingy, and more anxious. They don't do well if they don't know what is about to happen.”

Her advice to parents was to continue to set a routine.

“I know sometimes it is hard,” she said. “Our first instinct is, ‘let's watch movies for the next three weeks'. But that's not what they do at school.”

Ms Lister-Burgess said keeping a measure of normalcy, sticking to 8pm bedtime, for example, helped to reduce children's stress.

“A lot of people say they wish they could spend more time with their children,” she said.

“Now is your chance. Maybe you can't go out in the same way, but you can have a family game day or take a family walk.”

For the past 30 years, EAP has operated an in-house model. If a client had an issue to work out they went into the office in Hamilton and spoke directly to a therapist. Now, with everyone social distancing, EAP is offering online therapy or “tele therapy” appointments for the first time.

“We are still fully operational,” Ms Lister-Burgess said.

Today, they will be offering a free webinar on how to create a mental health plan at 12pm.

“You shouldn't wait until there is a concern, or a worry, to start thinking about the mental health of yourself or a loved one,” Ms Lister-Burgess said.

“Often we think of mental heath as reactive rather than preventive. I think everyone in some way should be reaching out for support. Don't wait until you are climbing up the walls. Don't wait until your teen is suicidal.”

She said people needed to put a mental health plan in place, the same way they did for physical fitness.

“It is just part of smart planning at this point,” she said.

To sign up for EAP's mental health planning webinar, send an e-mail to info@eap.bm. Ms Lister-Burgess will be the presenter.

For more information about EAP, call 292-9000 between 9am and 5pm. For after-hours assistance call 505-4327. In a psychiatric emergency, call the Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute hotline 24 hours a day at 239-1111

School stress: the high-school class of 2020 may be vulnerable to depression and anxiety during the Covid-19 crisis (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)
Latisha Lister-Burgess, executive director at the Employee Assistance Programme (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

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Published April 01, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 01, 2020 at 5:16 pm)

A tough time for teenagers

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