Q&A: Mental health in Quarantine

by Julian Quaye

There’s no way to sugarcoat this, life sucks right now. And while everyones stuck inside with nothing to do and nobody to be with, many people’s mental health is falling like a car off a cliff. The mental health of teens was never really that great in the first place, just being a teenager is hard enough. With quarantine, we may be facing a mental health epidemic. As a teen myself, I wanted to know more about what’s going on from a therapist’s perspective, so I decided to interview Carla Vogel -Stone. Along with her private practice she works for an agency called Community Health for Asian Americans that provides school-based mental health services in Oakland.

Do you think the overall mental health of teens has changed during quarantine?

Overall, I have the impression that a lot more teens are experiencing a depressed mood. Primarily that is due to the lack of physical and social contact with their friends. I think that many teens are also experiencing some significant anxiety for the first time, not only about the health of themselves, but perhaps about others that they love and care about..For for young people who are already experiencing mental health challenges, the pandemic has had the effect of making some things worse. Also during this time of political stress and racial tension, I think young people of color and those who are committed to uplifting issues of social justice have had a lot of additional stressors during this time. That’s been heavy.

How do you think we can best address these problems?

For the most part, we can best address some of these problems by assuring that our schools and our health care providers are equipped to provide adequate resources and connections to resources at this time for all students. That might mean we need to seek solutions to these concerns in unique and creative ways. As a mental health provider, I can adjust my fees, I can adjust my schedule, increase my flexibility and how I’m doing the work with clients to be more accessible to those who want or need the support.

Do you think distance learning has played a role in either improving or damaging the mental health of teens during the pandemic?

I think distance learning has played a role in both directions. For some distance learning has really been a blessing. Some students typically experienced a great deal of psychological stressors or challenges while attending school in person. Things like bullying, or having extreme shyness or social anxiety. And with distance learning, they’ve actually been able to feel some relief or increase the safety from some of those pre pandemic social academic pressures. But for others, the lack of connection with friends with coaches, mentors, teachers, and experiential learning has really decreased their motivation. For some students sheltering in place has resulted in an uptick in their anxiety. And even the idea of returning back to normal life has actually turned out to be a source of stress too.

Has providing therapy/counseling become more difficult since the pandemic began?

Again, I think it can go both ways. For students who have been accessing mental health services at school, it’s become more challenging in many ways to meet with them. It’s also hard to really have confidential conversations and households when everyone in the family is at home. Sometimes students have had literally no place to go to have a session with their therapist, and so they just won’t have a session when they typically would. Also, there’s some technology access issues, which makes therapy challenging for many families. And then phone sessions don’t really seem to be as satisfying to some students. 

How can teens best get professional help if they want to?

They can ask a trusted adult, a parent, a caregiver, a teacher, or a school counselor to help connect them with a therapist, or even just their pediatrician or their doctor because that person can then make referrals to mental health services. Most high schools have student health centers, and there are mental health therapists who were able to meet with students now via zoom, text or phone. There’s crisis support services of Alameda County, which is a tool for our crisis hotline, and that number is 1-800-309-2131. And then there’s a teen text line that’s also operated by crisis support services. And all you have to do is text the word safe to the number 20121. And that’s a no charge support services for teens seven days a week from four to 11.

What would you tell teens who are unsure of whether they should seek professional help or not?

I would really just encourage them to go for it and give it a try. Don’t be afraid to meet with a therapist, or two or three therapists before you decide which one you’d like to work with. Not all of us are alike. Not everyone is going to feel comfortable with every therapist. And in order for it to be helpful for you, you want to make sure that you’re comfortable with the person that you choose.If you don’t like therapy, after giving it a few sessions, I would encourage the young person to ask the therapist to help Psychotherapy, talk therapy just isn’t the only way to treat some of these concerns. 

Okay, what advice would you give to teens in general during these troubling times?

You’re not alone. We’re  all in this together, and your peers are likely struggling with some if not most of the same things that you’re struggling with. And While it helps to know that we’re not alone, I also encourage clients to be mindful of things like your eating habits, you’re making sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, and trying to limit your screen time. I also like to remind teens that getting  out of the house every day can be incredibly good for one’s mental health. And of course, I also encourage teens to stay in contact with their friends and with their caregivers support, find creative, physically distanced ways to hang out and see one another. And lastly, I encourage teens to simply keep talking about how they’re feeling to whomever they trust.

Thank you so much for this.