Less than a month into the academic year at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Alex, a 17-year-old high school senior, is feeling the strain of life in an uncertain time.
Growing up, he saw tests, grades and applications as part of a predictable, step-by-step process leading toward college. Not so much in a pandemic.
“All of that is sort of gone right now. You don’t really know what to do next, and that’s a big point of stress,” he said. “It’s really easy to feel isolated in terms of everything that’s going on. You don’t necessarily know where to turn.”
Since the pandemic began, thousands of Arizona teens have turned to Teen Lifeline, a crisis line where Alex volunteers as a peer counselor. (Teen Lifeline volunteers use their first names only in the media to keep counselors anonymous.)
In an average year, calls and texts to the hotline decrease between 30% and 40% over the summer. Kids are simply less stressed during summer vacation. This year, summertime volume at the hotline went up by 6%, instead. A much higher proportion of the contacts have come in by text, as well. Many teens are stuck at home, without enough privacy from their families to make a confidential phone call.
Those numbers reflect a broader trend of elevated depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among teens as they cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, those issues were common in the United States, with more than 16% of youth dealing with a mental health disorder, according to a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics.