Managing Adolescent Emotional Health in the Age of Coronavirus

As we approach the start of a new school year, Coronavirus has changed just about everything that we have come to know and expect. Navigating a new world of canceled sport seasons, hybrid and virtual learning, as well as social distancing, it is vital to be proactive about adolescent emotional health and wellness; to address the stress, pressure, and uncertainty and help keep them on a path of health and wellness.

“Over the past months, I have seen first-hand the emotional health impact of the Coronavirus with increased substance use and coping mechanisms that result in unhealthy decision making. We need to engage young adults, athletes, musicians, actors and check in with them. We need to start a conversation and identify healthy ways to manage the feelings of helplessness as their dreams are put on hold or altered out of their control.”

Chris Herren

How Coronavirus has Affected Mental Health and Substance Use
Adolescence is already a turbulent time, as we all know. Coronavirus brings with it even more challenges: less access to support communities, feelings of helplessness as athletic seasons and return to in-person school are cancelled, fewer outlets for complex emotions, and an increased risk for mental health and substance use disorders.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), alcohol and drug use has skyrocketed in recent months for adolescents, in particular with alcohol and cannabis use.

“The greatest percentage of adolescents were engaging in solitary substance use (49.3%), many were still using substances with peers via technology (31.6%) and shockingly, even face to face (23.6%).” ~ NIH

Adolescent substance use frequently co-occurs with other diagnoses, including depression, anxiety, and stress. With an increase in stressors and isolation directly attributed to COVID-19, young adults may be experiencing:

  • Increased Feelings of Isolation, Depression, Anxiety
  • Extended Access to Prescriptions Within the Home, Community or Family Network
  • Stress/Lack of Coping Mechanisms to Manage Stress Within the Home, School or Social Settings
  • Alcohol and Marijuana Use May Lead to an Increase in Family Conflicts
  • Navigating a New Normal Without Using a Substance as a “Numbing Agent”

How Administrators, Teacher and Coaches Can Support Adolescents
We are all under more stress than normal, and it can be difficult to know the best ways to help young adults navigate the stress and uncertainty of these times. The most important things to focus on are open, honest communication, identifying and maintaining healthy habits and to schedule frequent “check ins” to see how they are really doing.

Stay in Touch
One of the worst side effects of Coronavirus for adolescents is the lack of a social circle. Proper adolescent emotional development stems in large part from their connections with others, whether that is peers, role models, sports teams, creative (music/art) groups, or community/faith-based organizations.

Help young adults stay connected to these vital support systems, schedule meetings outside utilizing social distancing and mask wearing guidelines. If they can’t get together in person, encourage video calls, phone calls, social media groups, and other online methods of staying in touch. Step up and volunteer to organize a group if that would be helpful.

Find Healthy Outlets
Coronavirus has led to the closing of many activities that once provided much-needed outlets for the emotional and physical wellbeing of young adults. Start a conversation about how they are feeling not playing sports, going to band camp, or getting together with friends the way they used to. Ask them ways you can help, and what alternatives may help them stay connected.

College students may be facing a cancelled athletic season, schedule changes for their academic year, lack of class offerings for their major or even housing issues. Work with them to look at the situation through a new lens or perspective. Help them look for alternative options and set new goals based on the current climate, managing decisions they can control and staying mentally and physically ready for a revised athletic season or return to college plan.

For high school and middle school students, look for ways to support them with learning, athletics and their interests. If they miss playing sports with their team, perhaps parents can get together to schedule safe soccer practices with their kids; even running some socially distant drills or practicing basic skills can help. If your child was involved in an art class or other creative endeavor, investigate online resources that can keep their creative brain active and connected with other young adults who share their interests. There are several online and even offline resources available to entertain and engage students while still maintaining safe social distancing practices.

Maintain Healthy Habits
The disruption of Coronavirus has stripped away a steady routine of school, sports and activities, leaving them with a LOT more downtime than they are accustomed to. Maintain healthy habits and form a consistent routine while at home that keeps as much structure and predictability in their lives as possible, including:

  • A consistent wake-up time, and healthy sleep schedule that helps ensure plenty of rest.
  • Eat well-balanced and nutritious meals.
  • Keep moving by planning small group outings and/or regular workouts!
  • Online learning brings many challenges as well; it’s hard for young adults (AND parents) to stick to a regular daily learning schedule, with structure.

Open Communication
Complex emotions can be hard to deal with at any age, but they are especially troublesome for adolescents. Add in the unpredictable environment of Coronavirus, emotional and financial stress resting heavily on families, along with fewer resources for support, and it can leave young adults feeling isolated, anxious, depressed, and confused.

Keeping active, transparent, and open lines of communication with young adults is a key component to supporting positive emotional health and wellness. Consistently ask adolescents about their feelings, concerns, and questions – not in a punitive way, but rather in an ‘I’m here to help’ way – helps adolescents understand that they are not alone through all this, and that you are here to help them any way you can.

Help them get to the root cause of unhealthy behaviors and let them know you are there to support them through anything.

“The focus oftentimes is on the worst day when it comes to speaking about substances and mental health. We need to understand how this begins rather than how it ends. Prevention starts on the first day.” ~ Chris Herren

Strong Leaders
Adolescents look to strong leaders for inspiration and guidance on how to handle confusing or complicated situations. Providing young adults positive role models during the age of Coronavirus will provide them with constructive and beneficial ways to respond to this confusing world event.

It is during this time that Chris Herren’s message for youth is more important than ever. Herren’s team is working with schools to facilitate honest discussions about substance use and wellness. The impact of his message transforms individuals and communities to start the conversation on wellness. He challenges people to uncover their “Why” and to look within to create change.

Chris is continuing to share his message nationwide during this challenging time with the hope of reaching just one and refocusing the conversation on the disease of addiction from the last day to the first.

To learn more about virtual and socially distanced in-person presentations, how Herren Talks is addressing COVID-19 and the best way to help support your community please contact Jenny Swider, Communications Director, at or 401-243-8555.