Lesson of the Day: ‘“What’s the Point?” Young People’s Despair Deepens as Covid-19 Crisis Drags On’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘“What’s the Point?” Young People’s Despair Deepens as Covid-19 Crisis Drags On’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Featured Article: “‘What’s the Point?’ Young People’s Despair Deepens as Covid-19 Crisis Drags On” by Isabella Kwai and Elian Peltier

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect countries around the world, mental health professionals are concerned about the mental well-being of young people. Experts say that lockdowns and school closings have created a “mental health pandemic” that should be treated as seriously as containing the coronavirus.

In this lesson, you will learn about why so many young people seem to be struggling. Then, you will think about how friends, parents and schools can better support young people’s mental health and well-being.

Note to teachers: The featured article deals with anxiety, depression and suicide in young people. Please read it and this lesson plan to make sure they are appropriate for your class.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, and you live in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources. Additional resources in other countries can be found here.

The featured article begins with the story of Philaé Lachaux, a 22-year-old business student in France. Read this quote from Ms. Lachaux, who talks about the loneliness and despair she has been facing:

“The pandemic feels like a big stop in our lives,” she added. “One that puts us so low that I wonder, ‘What’s the point?’”

In your journal, reflect on Ms. Lachaux’s words:

  • What does this quote mean to you? How do you understand what Ms. Lachaux is expressing? How does it make you feel?

  • Does any part of the quote resonate with how you feel or how you have felt at any point during the pandemic? Does it make you think of things that friends or family members have expressed feeling?

  • What insight does this quote give us into the experience of young people during the pandemic? Why might teenagers and young adults, in particular, be feeling this way?

Read the article and then answer the following questions:

1. What are some of the causes of the mental health issues that young people are facing? Are there any other reasons, not listed in the article, that you would add?

2. What have mental health professionals across Europe noticed about the pandemic’s toll on young people’s mental health?

3. Dalia Al-Dujaili, 21, a student at the University of Edinburgh, says that one good thing about her generation is that “everybody talks about their therapists and their meds.” Do you and your peers talk openly about mental health? Do you agree with Ms. Al-Dujaili that this is a good thing?

4. How do social class and poverty intersect with mental health issues for young people?

5. Choose one of the solutions detailed in the section headlined “A search for remedies” and evaluate it. Do you think this is an effective strategy to support young people’s mental health? Why or why not?

6. Choose one statistic from the article that you find particularly meaningful, troubling or interesting. Then, explain why you chose it and what it illustrates about young people and mental health.

Option 1: Create an emotional well-being tool kit.

It’s important to take care of your mental health, especially in challenging times like these. While we will all have times when we are stressed, anxious, sad or angry, there are things we can do to help ourselves feel grounded, balanced and supported.

Create an emotional well-being tool kit to help you navigate challenging moments. These might be strategies you can employ yourself (“I can reach out to a friend” or “I feel calmer when I take a walk”), or they might be forms of support you need from others (“I would like my family to check in with me regularly” or “It’s easier for me to share when I know someone will listen without judgment”).

First, brainstorm a list of strategies that have worked for you in the past when you have struggled with your mental health.

Then, read some of the advice from experts in one or more of the following articles. Add any ideas that resonate with you to your list.

If you are in a classroom context, you might share your ideas with the class to create a crowdsourced list of strategies that you can draw on anytime, whether to help yourself in times of need or to support a friend.

Option 2: Brainstorm community solutions.

How can society — schools, the government, the media — better support young people who are struggling with stress, anxiety, loneliness or depression during the pandemic?

The article includes several suggestions, such as reopening schools, offering free therapy sessions for students and sharing resources on TV or social media. Do you think any of these ideas could be particularly helpful? What else do you think should be done to help young people?

On your own or with your class, brainstorm some steps your community could take. You might consider:

  • Your school. What resources does your school offer to support students’ mental health? How could the administration better support students? For example, should counseling be more widely available? Should students get mental health days off from school? If schools are closed, should they reopen? What else?

  • The federal or local government. What responsibility, if any, do you think the government has in ensuring the mental health of young people during the pandemic? Do you know of any government programs or services that support young people and mental health?

  • The community. How might your community come together to support young people? What could parents at your school do? How might institutions like the library, the recreation center or local businesses help?

Then, write a letter to your school administration, government or community leaders that explains how you have felt emotionally during the pandemic and provides three suggestions for how they can better support you and other young people.

Option 3: Discuss: Is this a moment for vulnerability or strength?

Do you think that the pandemic has been a time for young people to become stronger and more resilient? Or has it been a painful year that shows the importance in being emotionally vulnerable and OK with experiencing sadness and loneliness? Is it both?

Look at these two perspectives on the pandemic’s effects on young people. The featured article ends with these words from Philaé Lachaux, the 22-year-old business student in France:

Still, some young people see a silver lining. “At least the pandemic has given us the right to be sad,” said Ms. Lachaux, the French student. “We don’t have to show all the time how strong we are.”

Another article about young people’s mental health ends with these two paragraphs from Laura Anthony, a child psychologist and an associate professor:

Much as the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II forged what is known as “the Greatest Generation,” she said the challenges of the pandemic could strengthen today’s young people.

“I think we are going to have a generation of really remarkably resilient kids and teens who grow up to be really remarkable human beings as adults.”

Discuss with your classmates or reflect on your own in writing:

  • What do you notice about the difference in opinion between Ms. Lachaux and Ms. Anthony? Why do you think they might have different perspectives on this moment?

  • Do you tend to agree with one viewpoint more than the other? If so, which one and why? If not, how do you see this moment and why?

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