The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on high school and college youth in Kentucky and the US
The threat of disease, the necessary quarantines and the rollercoaster from face-to-face to virtual learning and back again have created unprecedented fear among many young people.
Hannah Covington, senior Hannah Covington of Western Kentucky University, is part of the WKU Public Broadcasting Brinkley Student Employment Program. She spoke with social worker Rachel Wyatt, director of the iHOPE program at Lifeskills in Bowling Green. Wyatt says the combination of stressors has increased the number of youth seeking psychological help.
Wyatt: iHope is an early intervention treatment and support program that provides services to individuals between the ages of 12 and 30 who have what we call extraordinary experiences. We call these clinical risk symptoms of psychosis.
Covington: How would you describe these episodes?
Wyatt: Symptoms may resemble increased anxiety. Changes in mood, so having an irritable mood, but that’s kind of a sudden onset. When a person is unable to do the things they are used to doing, especially things they love to do. When they have a drop in numbers. And even changes in light perception. So things may seem brighter or duller or sounds may seem louder or softer.
Covington: And is there an increase in the number of patients?
Wyatt: Yes. So across the spectrum of Lifeskills, looking specifically at what we call transitional youth and young adults, so between the ages of 16 and 25, we’ve seen an increase from last fiscal year to this fiscal year in terms of customers that we have admitted to a program. In fiscal year 2020, Lifeskills admitted 270 of those transition-age youth. And for fiscal year 2021, we admitted 397.
Covington: Could that big jump be due to COVID?
Wyatt: I think COVID had a lot to do with that. The isolation, especially, you know, from friends and even relatives, has really increased the anxiety and depression in many of the clients we see at Lifeskills.
Covington: With increased anxiety and depression, what number of ages in the transition period do you most often see saying, Hey, I have anxiety or depression?
Wyatt: For our program I see this mainly between the ages of 12 and 21 or 22.
Covington: And what are some of the things these clients say that come up and say why they have anxiety or depression?
Wyatt: The last year I have been dealing with most of my clients has been being at home with mom and dad all the time. And so the problems themselves, you know, that arise just because they’re teenagers and parents, unable to spend time with their friends. So that lack of social connection. You know, I know we’re a world of technology, but texting and Snapchat, that only goes so far.
Covington: Has it been good to see people come forward and say, I need help?
Wyatt: Yes, I don’t think anyone needs help for their mental health issues. But I think looking through the pandemic, people have recognized that there are mental health issues and for the most part they have enough insight to seek those services. And one of the things I see about young people is that they’re really eager to reduce that stigma and talk about mental health.
Covington: It was nice talking to you, Rachel.
Wyatt: It was nice talking to you, Hannah. Thank you very much.
Covington: Thank you.