The Sylva Herald, Heather Gordon, July 8

A new survey commissioned by National 4‑H Council, and conducted by the Harris Poll, finds that seven in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19.

More than half of those surveyed shared that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, with 64 percent believing it will have a lasting impact on their mental health. The survey, conducted in May 2020, is among the first to examine the impact this unprecedented public health crisis has had on U.S. teens.

In 2019, the World Health Organization announced suicide as the third leading cause of death in teens age 15 to 19. Their findings determined that the “consequences of not addressing adolescent mental health conditions extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.”

The survey, which polled more than 1,500 youth between the ages of 13-19 nationwide, was commissioned by National 4‑H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll to gain a deeper understanding of the state of teen mental health and to gather youth perspectives on the issue as 4‑H aims to empower young people with the resources and support to address their health and well-being head on.

Key findings from the survey include:

• 81 percent of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S.

• 55 percent of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45 percent excessive stress and 43 percent depression.

• 71 percent of those surveyed say school work makes them feel anxious or depressed.

• 65 percent of those surveyed say uncertainty about the future makes them feel anxious or depressed. Teens report feeling more pressured to hide their feelings rather than do drugs.

• 67 percent feel pressure to keep feelings to themselves.

• 67 percent pretend to feel better to not worry anyone.

• Teens today report spending 75 percent of their waking hours (approximately nine hours each day) on screens during COVID-19.

• 46 percent of teens reported social media as their most common outlet for learning about coping mechanisms for mental health, and 43 percent follow or support someone on social media who openly talks about their mental health issues.

• 82 percent of teens are calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country.

More than half of the teens surveyed shared that they feel pressure to hide their feelings, and they want that to change. An overwhelming majority of teens are calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health and wish for schools to teach more on the issue.

With programs focused on issues such as substance abuse prevention and mental health, 4 H, powered by Cooperative Extension – a community of more than 100 public universities across the nation – aims to help young people build a firm foundation of social-emotional health. By understanding how to take care of their minds and inner being, 4‑H helps young people develop good decision-making and strong interpersonal skills which is key to holistic well-being.

For further information about Jackson County 4-H, contact me at 586-4009 or heather_gordon@ncsu.edu.

Heather Gordon is 4-H agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson and Swain counties.