How long has it been since you last went out with friends, enjoyed a good meal at your favorite restaurant or watched a live musical concert? With the fast-spreading new coronavirus variants causing community infections to rise at unbelievable speed, major cities like Ho Chi Minh City were left with no other choice but to go on full lockdown. The devastation brought by the pandemic, from the loss of millions of people to the unprecedented toll on the economy and social isolation has greatly affected the physical and mental wellbeing of many.
Psychologists, health professionals, and counsellors recategorize social interactions from a desire to a “basic human need, analogous to other fundamental needs such as food consumption or sleep,” as stated in a research paper on the US National Library of Medicine. For most adolescents, those between the ages of 10 and 24, socializing is arguably the biggest aspect of their lives. Given the physical distancing measures and directives mandated for HCMC to contain the spread of the virus, the opportunities they have to connect with peers and distant family members have been limited to online messaging apps.
With many wrestling with worry, stress, and uncertainties that come with the fast-changing situation and prolonged lockdown, this constant anxiety is directly correlated with deteriorating mental health, especially among the young.
For Kenneth Ubaldo, a high school senior and self-declared extrovert who draws energy from spending time with others, “lockdown has not really been good for my mental wellbeing, despite having family members at home with me”. Kenneth shared that while it was great getting to spend more time with his loved ones, “you get to a point where it can be draining to not see people you haven’t seen in a long time, especially close friends. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the motivation to do anything really.”
For Khoi Tran, who is bound to head to the United States to start his college career at Case Western Reserve University, he felt “a bit more lonely from not being able to see friends and relatives,” especially knowing that college life will mean being away from home for a much longer period of time than he has ever experienced before.
Seventeen-year-old Millie Shaw also noticed that her anxiety has gotten a lot worse in lockdown than it was. “Before, I would only experience my anxiety in certain situations. However, now it is much more unpredictable and difficult to control.” But at the same time, she admitted, “the lockdown has shown me who really is there for me, and who I can lean on when in need”.
“This is something that is a big positive for me as I’m extremely fortunate to be with my family in these times. So it's very comforting for my mental health to know that I have such a big support system around me.”
COVID silver lining: More open conversations about mental health
The shared hardships of social separation these past few months have also opened up doors for teenagers to discuss their feelings and mental health with friends and loved ones: a topic typically hushed - if not completely avoided - in conversations. By having more common ground that is the shared fears about the pandemic and frustrations of travel constraints, many have found themselves bonding with each other like never before.
Amidst the feelings of isolation during this time, these teenagers have also managed to see the brighter side of the situation. Movement restrictions have given everyone “the ability to truly take a break from the chaos and pressure of social interactions, and educational stress. I’ve become more mindful, aware, of the surroundings,” Kenneth explained. By having our daily lives impacted, many have learnt to not take the smallest things for granted and to be more appreciative of everything as we think of fond memories from pre-lockdown times.
“There have been many highs and lows so I can’t conclude whether it’s definitely improved my mental health or worsened it. I will say though, that if I had to choose, I’d lean more towards the ‘better’ side,” he said, “because I’ve learned many things about myself; I’ve also gained more wisdom, inspiration and motivation. This has positively influenced my perception of things.” For Millie, the extended lockdown has taught her to cope with difficult and unforeseeable circumstances, “which is valuable especially in the world we live in right now.”
And because nobody really knows when this ends (if at all), being more understanding and thoughtful have proven to be more necessary than ever. A simple conversation or a quick check-in with others can help ease anxiety and loneliness during this time. Given the directives as part of lockdown, in order to connect with friends and distant family, everyone has gotten creative with the ways they can spend time with each other. Whether it’s through video games, social media, video calls or group chats, Khoi shared that he tries hard to “remain connected with friends and family.”
“We do lots of Netflix parties, quizzes that we make ourselves and things like that,” Millie said. “Although, of course, it's not the same as being with them in person, it's nice to do something a bit more fun and different to connect with them and have a laugh.” Being from England, the majority of Millie’s extended family lives in a completely different time zone. While this has made connecting a little harder, the “long calls to chat and reminisce about old times” is what makes everything worth it, she shared.