The transition to the new normal and recovering from the upheaval and changes of the Covid-19 pandemic can impact the mental health of teenagers and young adults.
Clinical psychologist and founder of Labyrinth Psychological Centre, Johor Bahru, Tan Zong Yan, was speaking on ‘Mental Health of Adolescents and Young Adults Post Covid-19’. Over 60 people attended the online talk organised by the School of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences and the Penang Regional Centre on 13 November 2021.
Mental health covers psychological, emotional and social wellbeing, and affects how a person handles the normal stresses of life, makes life choices, gets along with others, and is able to contribute to society.
He cited three major factors that affect the development of mental health problems – biological factors (e.g. heredity, genetics and prenatal conditions), life experiences and family history.
He said adolescents may model the behaviour and coping skills of parents and other adults in the family. Experiencing trauma can affect their perception to the environment, and a family history of mental illness can impact mental health as well.
Tan said the pandemic causes a fear of infection, social disconnectedness and financial difficulties among the youngsters, which increases their stress reactions, leading to various mental health problems.
“Adolescents who experienced previous trauma besides social isolation and quarantine during the pandemic are more prone to anxiety and depression,” he remarked. Other stressors can be connectivity issues during online learning, threat of parents’ unemployment and heightened family tension.
He said as the country is transitioning to normal, it is important for adolescents and young adults to have a strong support system, e.g. family, friends or professionals.
He advised, “You don’t need the added pressure of reverting fast to your pre-pandemic schedules and expectations. Allow yourself to adjust gradually to your former schedule and routine. Take things day by day.”
Tan continued, “Be mindful of what works for you when rebuilding your routine. Just because you were doing something before the pandemic, which was helpful then, may not work well now.” He added, “Go at your own pace. Don’t force yourself to go out with friends, if you’re not ready. Not everyone wants to pick up exactly as they were before the pandemic.”
Among the signs and symptoms of mental illness to take note of are: feeling sad; reduced ability to concentrate; excessive fears and worries or extreme feelings of guilt; extreme mood changes; withdrawal from friends and activities; significant tiredness or problem sleeping; detachment from reality, paranoia or hallucinations; agitated or irritable; difficulty relating to situations and people; problems with alcohol or drug use; poor appetite or binge eating; excessive anger, hostility or violence; and suicidal thinking.
He suggested seeking professional help from registered counsellors, clinical psychologists or psychiatrists to manage symptoms and prevent a relapse of mental illness.
Tan offered the following self-care tips for coping with mental health crisis: Set and maintain a routine; focus on things you can control; maintain social connection; focus on the present; enjoy music or read books; consume reliable news sources and limit exposure to news and social media; look for ways to help your community; and be appreciative.
During Q&A, he recommended assessment for proper diagnosis, and religious support for added strength to go through treatment and recovery.