Include Us in the Conversation: COVID-19 and Teen Mental Health

By Becca Bienstock

Over the last few weeks, there have been tons of articles written about the effects of COVID-19 on the long-term mental health of teens. Will we experience more anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress? What will the future of our mental health look like? How can professionals and other adults support teens in need?

The answers to these questions are vital. As we experience isolation and uncertainty and see many of our friends’ struggle, teens across the world want to help answer these questions. One in every five teens struggles with some sort of mental illness and five percent of adults’ struggle with a mental illness as well. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among adolescents. And this was before COVID-19 hit.

High schoolers around the world are dealing with drastic changes in their lives and unsure of how to handle the isolation. Concerts, sports seasons, plays, and competitions we prepared for all year have been canceled. For seniors, like me, everything we worked for and looked forward to throughout our entire high school career was taken from us in an instant, leaving the work and dedication we put in feeling like a waste. Depression and pain have set in for many, and unfortunately, this has led to a decline in conversations about mental health and enabled stigmas to fester. However, the good news is, Jewish teens across the world are taking the steps needed to re-start conversations about mental health and help those in need.

Over the last month, my peers and I across BBYO worked to bring awareness to mental health. Using the platform of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, we found and built a community in isolation. We came together to celebrate Shabbat and Havdalah and connected Jewish rituals back to our own mental health and wellness. Many teens learned that they are not alone in their struggles and listened to experts explain how to break the stigma that ostracizes those struggling, how to support and find comfort in community, and how to acquire the tools to help themselves and others. This month has been a start in transforming and owning how we, as teens, talk about mental health and build a community where no one has to suffer in silence.

Similarly, the adults around us, like the staff at BBYO, have enforced the idea of fighting for what we believe in and having the power to change the world. Every day, these adults and professionals continue to motivate and support us. As a result, I have been inspired to improve the mental health resources for all teens by ensuring that teens know they are not alone, and that it’s okay to have open conversations about it. 

One thing is clear: the COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant effect on the health and wellness of teens and adolescents around the world. At the same time, teens hold the key to making a difference for themselves and their peers. I’m so thankful we have a month dedicated to conversations, promotion, and awareness around mental health because this advocacy will aid in breaking stigmas. However, it is even more crucial that the conversations don’t stop here. We must continue to provide spaces that support teen health and wellness all year round. The small steps taken today will aid in bringing a stronger tomorrow. A tomorrow that no longer shuts out those struggling with mental illnesses and in need of help. A tomorrow that ensures that all people have the resources needed to cope, improve their own mental health or that of a loved one, or even save a life. Let’s shift the conversation around mental health and ensure the inclusion of our voices, the voices of teens, as we search for solutions to the struggles we face during and after the current crisis.

Becca Bienstock is a high school senior from West Bloomfield, Michigan. She was the 75th Regional Mazkirah (Vice President of Communications) for BBYO Michigan Region and is planning to attend Michigan State University in the fall.