Love, Loss and Hope
Sky Center director reflects on the pandemic’s effects on teens
Over the course of the last year and a half, the COVID-19 pandemic has flipped our lives upside down. With so many new battles to fight and conflicts to address, many of us have struggled to prioritize our mental health. The pandemic caused surges of stress, loneliness, depression and anxiety in millions of people. Teens were hit especially hard, and the isolation they endured has changed how we all approach mental health.
Apryl Miller, the executive director of the Sky Center, a suicide prevention and mental health awareness organization here in Santa Fe, is very aware of the increase in depression and anxiety among young people due to COVID-19.
Isolation was a key factor, Miller said.
“One thing that we know helps with anxiety and depression is social connection, being with people you love,” she said. “Due to COVID, that got cut off of course.”
The Sky Center works primarily as the hub for the New Mexico Suicide Intervention Project, an initiative that bloomed into a nonprofit in 1994 to combat teen and adolescent suicide in Northern New Mexico. The pandemic has brought increased need for the program’s services.
Teens often struggle with their identity, and the isolation of the last year and a half made it clear how important a sense of belonging is for young adults, Miller said.
“We consider community to be a sort of antidote to suicide and depression,” she added. “The feeling of ‘I need to show up because my friends are counting on me’ is comforting.”
The Sky Center has established connections with schools and hospitals in Santa Fe. The center also has a prominent social media presence and uses its platform to help reach teens in the state through more accessible means.
As more of us get vaccinated and the world seemingly begins to return to somewhat-normalcy, it’s unclear whether the mental health issues that spiked during the pandemic will come to an end or continue.
Miller believes the key will be acknowledgement and understanding, maintaining a world where social and emotional intelligence are prioritized at home and in the classroom.
“We’re coming out of this with more respect for the importance of reaching out and feeling confident enough to ask for help,” she said.
Miller reflected on the long-term effects of the pandemic for everyone.
“Did it make all of us more socially anxious and codependent?” she asked, adding, “It made us realize the courage it takes to jump into the social world.”
Miller believes social reconnection will be vital in healing this generation, but since the virus took hold, she and her colleagues aren’t sure how the social scene has changed or what implications it will have on teen mental health. She hopes family conflict will begin to settle as the limits and quarantine lift, but until she sees it in action, she said, she can’t be certain.
As for the time our generation lost due to COVID, Miller knows it’s bound to have lasting impacts.
“Some of those softer traditional welcomings and transitions were lost,” she said. “Elements that ease worry and anxiety and make change easier.”
Miller is hopeful the end of the pandemic will help adolescent mental health and that our reintroduction to the world will come with ease. But only time will tell.
Ivy St. Clair is an incoming freshman at New York University, interested in anthropology, international relations and sociology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.