ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- “I could barely get up. I would have like six mental breakdowns a day," Addy McCandless said. The tenth-grader joins thousands of local students who have struggled greatly with their mental health during the pandemic.
After nearly a year of social isolation, many experts fear the worst for our kids and young adults. A group of teens from different districts spoke to News 4 about their experience, begging for help and to be heard.
“I think all the teens are going to be traumatized by this, I know I certainly will,” McCandless said.
Our interview with these teens over Zoom is just another example of the isolation. “I don't think I've left my computer other than to get some food," said Charlie Mathis, an eighth-grader. “As soon as COVID hit, I have been really sad.”
The pandemic has uprooted the traditional way of schooling, and students had to quickly adjust to virtual learning when the coronavirus first shut schools down in early 2020. “You are stuck, trapped in your own cage,” said Max Robinson, a tenth-grader.
Instead of a lively classroom, students were put in makeshift learning corners in their homes with nothing but a screen and no human contact. “That's all we are looking at every single day, is a screen of some sort and it can affect your mind in a bad way,” freshman Sophie Chenot said.
And even now after some schools allowed them back into the classroom, they say they are still discouraged from social contact. “It is eerily quiet," Chenau said. "No one in the hallways is talking whatsoever."
“I try to hug my boyfriend in the hallway, but it's awkward because I don't want people to think I am spreading the virus or doing this or that,” junior Annabelle Thompson said.
The teens have noticed changes in themselves. The isolation took its toll.
“It’s like, 'where is this coming from?' Bam. I am mad at my girlfriend but she didn't do anything, so why am I mad? What's going on?” said Ian Thompson, a college student.
They believe in some ways, their mental health has been sacrificed for the sake of staying physically safe. “When you have nothing to do and you’re stuck, you feel alone all the time,” said Joseph Price, a college student.
They're far from alone in feeling alone. A recent study said since the start of the pandemic, one in four young people reported an increase in losing sleep, feeling unhappy or depressed, under constant strain or feeling a loss of confidence.
Even more worrisome, according to the CDC, trips to emergency rooms for mental health issues increased 31% in the teen age group last year. Experts fear more young people are turning to drugs or alcohol or having thoughts of harming themselves.
We spoke with students in middle school all the way through college and each of them said the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on their mental health.
“It’s a worry all of us in mental health and substance abuse share,” said Ken McManus. He's a local counselor who works with teens and families.
He said all humans need connection, but young adults especially so. “I wonder if this won't be a generation of kids that as they reach older years look back and their entire period of life was framed by this pandemic,” McManus said.
News 4 asked him what warning signs parents should be looking for in their teens. McManus said parents should look for patterns of shifts in mood. He said teenagers are naturally moody but it becomes alarming when your normal ways of reaching your child aren't working anymore.
McManus said parents should take care of themselves too. He said adults should "be conscious and intentional in order to be a resource for your kids, I think that's really important."
There was one place in particular the teens felt more resources should be coming from: their own school district. Read that story here.
“I just feel like there are not a lot of voices from our age, our generation that are being heard,” Thompson said. Hoping just to be heard, the group said even being listened to feels like a start. “Just to know that somebody wants to hear how we feel about it, means a lot."