Teens detail mental health struggles in live event with WETA’s Well Beings 

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of America’s young people, who now face uncertainty in almost every aspect of life and the constant stress of social isolation.

To explore the lasting impact, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and the Well Beings initiative created Teens, COVID and Coping.

How has the pandemic affected teen mental health

Hosted by PBS NewsHour’s senior correspondent, Amna Nawaz, the conversation featured Dr. Lisa Damour, a New York Times columnist and psychologist, two teens from the SRL network, Bridgette Adu-Wadier and Irving Oliver, and school counselor of the year, Laura Ross.

“The job of teenagers is to become increasingly independent and to spend more and more time with their peers,” said Damour. “And the pandemic makes that impossible. And what I am hearing clinically from my colleagues and also in my own work is that teenagers are finding this very tedious, very constraining school, which, you know, may not always be their favorite.” 

Using music, sports and art to cope with the pandemic

Throughout the town hall, Irving Oliver, shared his views on what it is like to return to school amid the pandemic. “As an introvert myself, I’ve never really been such a social person, except I’ve realized that I do miss social interaction a lot now because I’ve always been in my little bubble. And now that I’ve been here, I’ve been in here too long… I’m sad all the time. I get bummed out in the middle of singing songs or in the middle of homework. I just think I just feel sad. I feel like I’m not doing good enough,” he said.

Without social activities, students are struggling with isolation

Adu-Wadier is a senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia just outside of Washington, D.C. Of her experience she said, “I didn’t expect school to go like this, especially my senior year. You know, that rite of passage, of doing senior pictures and going to homecoming and just seeing your friends on a daily basis has been taken away from me.”

Irving Oliver and Adu Wadier are only two of countless teens across the country who, like many Americans, have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic’s effects on their families and home life. Earlier this year and at the outset of lockdowns set on by the pandemic, SRL collected the voices of teens asking them what life was like and how they were coping.

Building on that well-received opportunity for students, SRL resurfaced and refined the prompts to include as students returned in different ways to school for the 2020-2021 academic year.

SRL continues to amplify the voices of students across the country as Well Beings makes its way to dozens of communities in the coming year. The next virtual tour stop is on November 9 with Minneapolis Public Radio, an affiliate of American Public Media, where the event will focus on the trauma that black youth have faced in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Watch the ENTIRE Well Beings town hall on teens, covid and coping here.