As the pandemic has persisted, our concerns have evolved.
Yes, the health of our friends and neighbors remains first in mind. But it has also become clear that the changed environments we navigate every day are having effects that reach far beyond physical wellness.
Take this reporting from the New York Times last month:
“The social isolation of the pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of many Americans. But the impact has been especially severe on teenagers, who rely on their friends to navigate the maze and pressures of high school life.
“Research shows that adolescents depend on their friendships to maintain a sense of self-worth and to manage anxiety and depression. A recent study of 3,300 high school students found that nearly one-third reported feeling unhappy or depressed in recent months.”
The effects aren’t limited to teenagers, of course. Everyone from young children to senior citizens has to cope with dramatically reduced social circles. The seeming adventure of a few weeks or months of lockdown has become a nearly year-long slog, with definitive ending dates still hazy.
But for teens, the issues appear especially acute. Younger children can still live in a world largely composed of their family members, and those with several decades under their belt understand that time invariably turns difficulties to memories.
Adolescents, however, are learning to make their ways as individuals. Their peers are critical influences. Activities at school provide structure and interest.
Unfortunately, the answers to this challenge — for teens and everyone else — are far from clear. Yes, quality mental health care and positive self-care habits can help. Yes, there are ways to continue connections through online means or socially distanced walks outside. We don’t have to relegate ourselves to staying in bed and eating cheese puffs every day.
Yes, there’s no question that limiting movement, keeping our distance and wearing masks can be unsettling. But it’s no less unsettling to watch a virus spread uncontrolled in a community.
The world is different. Things have changed. And we can’t simply wish that away or restore a false sense of normality. Our sense of everyday life has profoundly shifted. Vaccines later this month and next year should bring relief to many, but we will be grappling with the aftereffects of the pandemic for years to come.
Above all, we should care and communicate. There may not be easy answers, but if we lean into our connections with family and friends, and stay in touch with medical professionals, we will be in better shape when this all does, finally, ease.