By Julia Fennell
Trying to maintain her mental health is not new for Ava V. Marie, 23, who first saw a therapist when she was 10, but the pandemic has made the struggle worse.
Marie was working as a bartender in Nashville — one of her favorite jobs of all time — when COVID-19 first hit and she lost her job. She and her roommates were having trouble paying the rent, which is part of the reason Marie moved to Colorado.
“There are days where I feel hopeless about the future, just in the sense that these are my early 20s and I’m not able to get out and meet new people,” Marie said. Marie has formed an online community of people to talk to, but she said it’s not the same as a person-to-person connection.
The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of the state’s young adults, but Colorado is not the only area to face this problem. The mental health of people between the ages of 15 and 24 has worsened significantly, according to a May 2021 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In some countries, mental health issues for people in this age group have doubled.
Marie is from Chicago and being away from her family has also been difficult for her, she said.
Marie, who lives in Aurora but works in Boulder, said she is friends with her co-workers, but it is hard for them to arrange to see each other outside of work, as they don’t want to get COVID and some of them work additional jobs, which makes finding a time to meet difficult.
Children’s Hospital Colorado sees children from birth to young adulthood and sometimes beyond, according to Ayelet Talmi, director of the Harris Program, which provides clinical training and research into infant and early childhood mental health.
Every month in 2021, Children’s Hospital Colorado saw at least 30%, and in some cases, over 80%, more patients than the same month in 2019, according to a statement attributed to Children’s Hospital Colorado, emailed to Newsline from a media relations specialist.
Angel Guerrero, 20, is an introvert, so when COVID first started, he wasn’t too bothered by the isolation, or by anxiety, he said. That eventually changed.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Guerrero moved back home with his parents, who live near Fort Collins, and having a good relationship with them helped to lessen his anxiety. Guerrero spent most of his days with his sister, who was also attending school remotely, so in some ways, it felt like a healthy break, he said.
Guerrero struggled with society’s massive focus on numbers, rather than the actual lives of the people lost. “There was a bit of humanity lost in the fact that everything was just being counted,” he said. “That really made the entire thing a lot more difficult.”
Guerrero saw a light at the end of the tunnel when the vaccines first became available, but then the delta variant began spreading, which caused him to question whether this was just going to be how things are now, he said.
“That moment when we realized, ‘Oh, it’s not over yet,’ is when it really hit, that this might be the new normal,” Guerrero said.
Increased levels of adverse mental health conditions and suicidal ideation were reported by young adults in the United States in June 2020, according to a survey of 18 to 24 year olds, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prevalence of anxiety disorder symptoms reported were approximately three times those that were reported in April, May and June 2019.
Anxiety about shut-downs and the world returning to how it was during the first few months of the pandemic is a battle Avery Carrington, 20, faces on a regular basis.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot of stuff in the meantime, to catch up on the things I missed out on, or the things that I could miss out on, if anything changes,” Carrington said, referring to his anxiety about the possibility of COVID conditions worsening or things shutting down again.
“The isolation has affected my social skills, which I struggled with even prior to the pandemic,” Carrington said. “I spent more time with myself, and although I was still able to communicate with people through texts or calls, it wasn’t a face-to-face interaction, so I feel like I regressed in my social abilities.”
Even though Carrington is a sophomore at Colorado College, he said he still feels like a first-year, due to the lack of interactions he had last year.
Despite this, COVID has motivated Carrington to start building a future, he said.
“COVID has taught me to manage my money, my time, to make more connections, so if anything were to happen, I would have some stability now,” Carrington said.
Carrington still struggles with social interactions in new environments, but he said he is working on it.
Shae Walton, 22, was in her second year as a volleyball player at Adams State University when the pandemic first began. Moving back in with her parents, in Trinidad, was difficult, because Walton went from being with her friends all of the time to being isolated at home, having to do classes online, she said.
Walton was in a relationship that fell apart when COVID arose, because she and her partner couldn’t see each other for months, which was really hard, on top of being at home all of the time, not being able to do anything, Walton said.
“With the sports, that was kind of my get away, just to get away from everything that’s bothering me, so having that being taken away was another hard thing,” Walton said.
“I’ve definitely been talking to my friends a lot more, because I used to just push it all down, and that got very bad during the pandemic,” Walton said when asked about coping mechanisms.
Jaden Rosard, 20, graduated high school in December 2019 and took a gap semester before starting at New York University in Fall 2020. When COVID first hit, Rosard was traveling around Europe, but quickly flew home to Colorado.
“All of a sudden, I was home, doing nothing,” Rosard said. Rosard stayed with his parents in Boulder from March until August, when he started classes remotely and moved into an apartment with his best friend, who was one of the only people Rosard saw for eight months.
“It just really was like I didn’t see anyone, I felt like I was on my own, all of my interactions felt super artificial and distanced, because they were literally distanced, in the sense that they were online primarily, but also everyone was just sort of in their own world and their own bubble,” Rosard said.
Rosard talked to a therapist who helped him, but he said it was hard to lean on a therapist who also didn’t know what was happening.
“I feel like one of the qualifications for being a good therapist is that you sort of have yourself in a place where you can help others, and I don’t think anyone was emotionally supported, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, so it was hard for anyone to get support,” Rosard said.
A ‘groundhog day cycle’
“I just remember logging on to Zoom and feeling like I was in this groundhog day cycle, getting up, not even leaving my bed, joining my Zoom classes, talking with my teachers and logging off, and then scrolling endlessly through social media,” said Abbie McAdams, 19, who was in her senior year of high school and making college decisions when COVID arrived. “And that isolation and ability to just be on my screen all the time, without healthy outlets like exercise and things like that, really, really impacted my mental health and my body image. It was really strenuous in those first few months.”
“It was a very weird time to be deciding my future from my bedroom,” McAdams said.
“I used to be very administrative, doing one task, to the next task, to the next. But now, I prioritize making time to smell the roses a little bit more, just because you never know what is going to happen.”
Fer Juárez Durán, Student
McAdams, who is from Jefferson County, struggled with the lack of closure she had from high school, because while she was able to attend an in-person graduation in August, she hadn’t seen her classmates in months and some peers were already at college.
“It was really hard, because I didn’t feel as though I got the closure I needed from high school, which was one of the reasons I was so anxious coming into (the University of Denver) and wondering if I was going to make friends, and all of those things, because I was just so used to being alone and at home.”
McAdams is an extrovert, so the isolation was difficult for her, she said.
McAdams attended therapy when she was younger but began seeing a therapist again during the pandemic, which she called one of the best decisions of her life. “I’ve always been a huge proponent of therapy, but I, myself, fell victim to the stigma around mental health, and there was definitely a part of me that thought I didn’t need to go to therapy because nothing was so wrong it was impacting my ability to function, but my life has completely changed since I started seeing a therapist post-COVID.”
McAdams, who is now the president pro tempore of the University of Denver’s student government, as well as the sophomore class senator, said many students were severely negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Over 70% of college students who received treatment at counseling centers in Fall 2020 reported that their mental health was negatively impacted by COVID, according to data from over 43,000 college students who sought treatment at over 130 counseling centers during Fall 2020, analyzed by The Center for Collegiate Mental Health.
Impact on learning
Fer Juárez Duran, 20, is an astrobiology major at Colorado College, and a significant part of the major is geology. The last class Duran took during the Spring 2020 semester was the first introductory geology class.
“I feel the repercussions now because I’m several classes into the 300 and 400 level, and I’m feeling like some people have a better background than I do, just because they were able to be there, hands on,” Duran said. “Learning about rocks is definitely a lot better when you can hold the rocks in your hand.”
Exercising mindfulness is something Duran really relied on as the pandemic progressed, he said, as well as listening to podcasts during runs and bike rides.
“Having that one thing every day of my life, during that time that was really tumultuous, I think that really helped me ground myself,” Duran said.
There is a positive outcome of the pandemic for Duran. “I used to be very administrative, doing one task, to the next task, to the next,” Durán said. “But now, I prioritize making time to smell the roses a little bit more, just because you never know what is going to happen.”
“It was hard to try to be a smiling face every single day,” said Jasmina Martínez, who was a sophomore at Adams State University when COVID first started.
Interacting with professors helps Martínez learn, and she enjoys talking in class, so remote classes were one of the most difficult things she has had to do, said Martínez, 22, who went from being on track to graduate a semester early to failing some classes and being behind. She is now going to graduate a semester late.
Lack of support
Hannah Sisler, 25, was enrolled in a graduate program at Kent State University when COVID first hit, and more than two-thirds of her graduate school experience was during the pandemic.
Many of the programs at her school were geared towards mentorship, Sisler said, so having to complete them virtually was difficult and weakened the bond between the students.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of bonding, which is hard, because you are going through hard projects, hard classes, and you usually rely on your classmates, and there was not a lot of reliance in that way,” Sisler said. “So at a time when you are very isolated and needed support, there wasn’t a lot to hold on to, no support there.”
The lack of structure and uncertain moments ramped up her anxiety, said Sisler, who now works as the coordinator of co-curricular activities at Adams State University.
COVID-19 has killed more than 900,000 people in the United States, including more than 11,400 in Colorado.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. In Colorado, you can contact Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.
Julia Fennell is a reporter for Colorado Newsline. Originally published at Colorado Newsline.
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