#YOUthTalk  |  Building Personal Resilience  |  Impact of COVID-19

Dear Youths, It’s OK not to be OK

BY ASSOC PROFESSOR TAN BHING LEET

11 May 2020  |   6 min read

The COVID-19 and current Circuit Breaker measures have resulted in huge changes in the lifestyle, social connections and productive occupations of youths. Adolescence and young adulthood are milestones typically marked by active engagement, formation of role identity, socialisation and establishment of intimate relationships.

With mandatory stay-home measures as well as closure of schools and public facilities, opportunities to participate in activities deemed necessary for growth and well-being are reduced tremendously. Studies have found that youths are particularly susceptible to feelings of loneliness 1–3 and over-reliance on social media to make up for social disconnectedness can actually worsen mental health 4. In addition, routine and structure are necessary to maintain positive mental health and build psychological resilience. However, with the conversion of school-based learning to home-based learning, youths may choose to go online at random periods rather than regular school timings.

University students tend to take on internship and temporary jobs during this term break. The cancellation of these plans means that they need to find other sources of income, amidst mounting anxieties about their job prospects upon graduation. Furthermore, they are at the life stage where they are establishing independence and seeking support from people outside their families.

By paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental and accepting manner, youths can learn to be aware of their feelings without reacting to them.

Youths who have longstanding issues with their families may not have the skills to mitigate conflicts arisen from staying under the same roof for extended periods of time. Those physically active may also find themselves limited by the amount of space they have to burn off excess energy. All these may be coupled with genuine concerns about their own health and the health of their family, relatives and friends.

Despite the above, there are several things that youths can do to manage their mental well-being.

Establish and keep to a routine

Set up a schedule that consists of school work and exercise/leisure breaks in the morning. Ensure that home-based schoolwork is completed for the day. Then add in activities that enable the youth to connect with people outside home. This can be in the form of online conversations, participation in online leisure activities etc. Keep to regular mealtimes and ensure that youths maintain a routine sleep- wake timing. It is very easy to slip back to unstructured days. Youths need to find ways to be accountable, such as sharing their schedule with a family member or friend.

Pick up something meaningful

Youths need to feel actively engaged and to have a sense of purpose. At home, parents can assign responsibilities to youths, such as taking charge of certain household tasks, planning purchases, helping grandparents with online search etc. Youths can also take this opportunity to pick up a new leisure or skill which can be performed at home, such as learning a new language, arts and crafts, cooking, learning a new instrument etc. Incorporate social elements into these activities, such as learning a new language online with a friend, cooking with family member etc.

Emotional connection

Social isolation can have detrimental effects on mental well-being. Therefore, using online platforms to reach out to friends and relatives is important. At the same time, it is also important to set boundaries for social media consumption, so as to avoid getting overly affected by adverse news. Relationship conflicts may also emerge at the forefront during this period and youths can be encouraged to get help by accessing helplines to manage such issues.

Maintain healthy lifestyle

This seems straightforward enough but can be neglected during prolonged days at home. There are several online video workout routines to maintain physical fitness and youths can do it with friends over virtual meeting platforms, to increase motivation and add fun to their workouts. It is also tempting for youths to comfort eat and indulge in food cravings. Therefore, keeping nutrition in check is also necessary.

Cultivate ingredients for resilience

Youths can make use of this period of uncertainty to cultivate the necessary ingredients to build resilience. Conner and Davidson (2003) identified some characteristics of resilience such as viewing change as a challenge, managing strong emotions appropriately, committing to a cause and recognising limits to control.

Mindfulness practices may be helpful in building some of these characteristics. By paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental and accepting manner, youths can learn to be aware of their feelings without reacting to them. Over time, youths can cultivate an understanding that feelings and situations are subjected to change and to focus on aspects that are within their control. There are online guided mindfulness programmes available, such as Headspace and Brahm Centre.

The 2nd Singapore Mental Health Study found that young people aged 18 to 34 years are at the highest risk of having mood and anxiety disorders5. Heightened awareness of youth mental health issues has prompted the formation of the inter-agency Youth Mental Well-being Network. It is important to identify youths who are experiencing emotional distress and direct them to counselling services and helplines.

The contributor is a Programme Director (Occupational Therapy) at the Singapore Institute of Technology.

References

  1. Victorian Health Promotion Foundation. The Young Australian Loneliness Survey: understanding loneliness in adolescence and young adulthood. Resarch Summary. 4 (2019) doi:10.1037/pag0000014.
  2. Rokach, A., Bauer, N. & Orzeck, T. The experience of loneliness of Canadian and Czech youth. J. Adolesc. 26, 267–282 (2003).
  3. Kaur, J. et al. Prevalence and correlates of depression among adolescents in Malaysia. Asia. Pac. J. Public Health 26, (2014).
  4. Barry, C. T., Sidoti, C. L., Briggs, S. M., Reiter, S. R. & Lindsey, R. A. Adolescent social media use and mental health from adolescent and parent perspectives. J. Adolesc. 61, 1–11 (2017).
  5. Subramaniam, M. et al. Tracking the mental health of a nation: Prevalence and correlates of mental disorders in the second Singapore mental health study. Epidemiol. Psychiatr. Sci. 29, E29 (2020).