Anthony Orr (17) was looking forward to all of the senior activities, prom and graduation when the governor of Nevada ordered a shutdown of all non-essential businesses throughout the state on March 17, 2020. To his disappointment all Andrew got in place of his graduation was a mini ceremony with a handful of students wearing masks and walking at a distance from each other. A far cry from what he had expected. But given the COVID restrictions that was the most and the best anyone could do. Andrew graduated with an honors but choose not to go to college. There is no point. The whole college experience isn’t there anymore. Everything is online. He got a job and was working in construction. He seemed happy.
On the 8th of August five months into the lockdown Andrew was found in a parking lot with a gunshot to his head. He had taken his own life at only 17.
It wouldn’t be alarming if his case was isolated. Unfortunately Andrew is one of nineteen teens who have committed suicide since the start of the pandemic. In January 2021 protests erupted in New York to press the D.O.E to open schools with stricter conditions. The protests were on the backdrop of the high teen suicide rates since the start of the pandemic. Adolescents can’t help it, they need social life to grow and develop fully. Restricting adolescents’ social life and forcing them to isolate is brutal and detrimental.
There’s a correlation between adolescent depression and COVID restrictions as Psychology Today writer Christine L. Carter notes: “Teenagers and college students have amplified innate, developmental motivations that make them hard to isolate at home. The hormonal changes that come with puberty conspire with adolescent social dynamics to make them highly attuned to social status and peer groups.”
Peer relationships that are mostly developed within the school environment are extremely important to the psychological well-being of a teenager. The pandemic forced adolescents to be removed from social, educational and physical interactions.
Pandemic restrictions have been felt across the board. In the case of teenagers, the restrictions have meant more time isolated from friends, virtual learning which takes away the human element in education, and the canceling of important activities like school performances, graduations, sports and proms.
Teenage years are marked by sharp cognitive, emotional and physical changes. There are also hormonal shifts, responsibility, independence and peer challenges associated with adolescence. It is not surprising that teenagers are more vulnerable to declines in mental health during the pandemic. Adolescents thrive on unrestricted social interaction, depriving them of social life has proved fatal as reports attest to a rise in teen suicides since the start of pandemic.
During adolescence social interaction and peer groups are a critical part of development. The pandemic has limited these opportunities for growth. Many teens feel anxious, frustrated and disconnected due to COVID restrictions that require social isolation and in the process teens miss out on spending time with friends at social outlets, participating in extra curricular activities and on playing their favorite sports.
Schools function as a protective factor that promotes relationships, motivation, safety and positive
student outcomes. As institutions of learning schools play a key role in child and youth development. They also function as social microcosms and reciprocally influence individuals and communities.
Lack of access to teachers, social workers and school friends during COVID lockdown has sparked a rise in teen depression. Isolated at home teens could not access school services and the safety thereof and human interaction that schools provide.
Teenagers are at a stage in life where they are totally invested in social connections. The greatest impact felt by adolescents during lockdown emanated from school closures. Being at home with only family members and not being able to see teachers, sport coaches and peers stifled the growth process of adolescents resulting in teen suicide, mental illnesses and chronic depression as witnessed in Andrew’s case who crumbled under the restrictions of the pandemic and took his own life at only 17 years.