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How Youth Can Overcome Covid-19 Anxiety

Please find the transcript to this podcast below: 

Melissa: Welcome to Channel Kindness Radio. My name is Melissa Lent and I’m here with my colleague Isabel Gouse from #MaskPledge, an initiative that spreads awareness about mask wearing and COVID-19.

Isabel: In this episode, we’re discussing the impact of the pandemic on youth anxiety and depression, especially when it comes to mask wearing. Nearly two-thirds of young people believe that Covid-19 will have a lasting impact on our generation’s  mental health, according to a May Harris Poll survey.

Melissa: How can youth overcome their coronavirus-related anxiety or depression during this pandemic? Keep listening to Channel Kindness Radio to find out.

Huma: I have anxiety on a daily basis, and going outside that first few times, my anxiety was through the roof. I was scared.

Izzy: That’s Huma Siddiqi, a 23-year-old senior at CUNY Lehman College studying psychology. Huma told us that because she has immunocompromised family members at home, she feels especially anxious about leaving her house during the coronavirus.

Huma: Every time I went out, and I specifically remember the very first time I went out after the pandemic started, I had like hand sanitizer on me and I was washing my hands like every chance I got but, even being near other people was just, I had never experienced that level of intensity of anxiety before. It was so strange to me. I was scared every time I came home, I remember every time I went out I just wore this one pair of jeans and I would keep them like on the floor so that they wouldn’t touch anything else. I felt like a germaphobe, I was just being like so careful about it and, the cases were just increasing and you didn’t know who had it or when they got it or how even, so, I feel like, like my hands were like so dry because of how often I was washing them and just I was just so scared, like on edge all the time.

Melissa: Right, exactly. So how do you feel when other people are outside and they’re not wearing masks around you?

Huma: I actually have seen people not wearing their masks. I’ve seen whole families outside without wearing masks. I was in Target, and I saw a whole family with a baby in a carriage without any masks. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop staring at them, and I was like anxious again because I, like I was on line with them and I had to stay, I was trying my best to stay, like as far away from them as I could, but they weren’t even really following social distancing. I feel disbelief. Because although I hear stories about people refusing to wear masks and I, you know on social media people talk about, like they can’t breathe in their masks or it’s like some conspiracy. It’s just, like the facts are the facts and you’re still like doing what you want despite like the reality of situation, so it kind of just astonishes me that people can be so self-centered or so misled that, that they’re endangering other people and themselves.

Melissa: For Huma, the global pandemic has only heightened her daily anxiety. And she’s not the only one who feels Covid-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.

Isabel: According to an August CDC study, over 60 percent of young adults aged 18 to 24 said they have either anxiety or depressive disorder. They scored higher than any other age group overall.

Melissa: We wanted to find out why the pandemic, and especially leaving the house, can cause youth so much anxiety, so we turned to Dr. Whitney McFadden. Dr. McFadden is a psychiatrist and also a researcher in Harvard University’s genetics department. She said that a situation like COVID-19 can intensify young people’s existing mental health struggles.

Dr. McFadden: If you’re anxious and you’re susceptible to like worse anxiety or depression, this type of scenario can exacerbate it. It can create panic attacks, it can create depression, in that people aren’t leaving their home, and so not being stimulated by the normal things that give you dopamine release can keep you in a really dark place so a lot of people struggle with that. So if you go out and you see other people not wearing masks, you stay away from them cuz that’s like classically our desire, like we’re, our body is gonna make that like automatic reflex to like stay away.

Melissa: Dr. McFadden’s insight on the susceptibility of youth to worse anxiety or depression during the pandemic, and specifically the stress of leaving the home, made us wonder what youth could do to feel better going out. Dr. McFadden said that a change in perspective on mask wearing could be useful.

Dr. McFadden: But also know that you are protecting them. And while they’re not protecting you, you can choose to remove yourself from that place. And so it almost is like an empowering thing. You’re noticing something, your body’s reacting, you have, are empowered in that moment to protect yourself. And the panic response is a hyperactivated response to something that’s actually really good. Like it’s very important to have a response.

Isabel: Dr. McFadden stressed how wearing your mask is an act of kindness because you are keeping those around you safe, but she also discussed why it’s critical for youth to wear masks even if they are less susceptible to the worst cases of the coronavirus.

Dr. McFadden: And so it’s not really about you protecting yourself from everyone around you, it’s protecting everyone around you from you. And because at any given moment we don’t know if we’ve been exposed to COVID and if we have the virus and how much we’re shedding, which are all things that matter. If you are not with symptoms but you’re shedding the virus, and you wear a mask, the likelihood of spreading that virus to somebody who could end up having a really bad effect from the virus, and be hospitalized or possibly die from it, is less. And so if you protect your spread to the next person, like the same as if you got a flu shot, then somebody who might have the potential to die from it, just won’t get exposed. And that, to me, just makes a lot of sense. Masks create this opportunity for us to really engage in our community and be outside, and be with people safely, and so that’s a beautiful thing that we can take advantage of.

Melissa: For Huma, wearing a mask ties directly into her ability to engage with her community and feel okay doing so.

Melissa: What message would you give to other people that would make you feel better about your anxiety?

Huma: Wear your masks! That’s what I would say.

Melissa: We wanted to learn more about how young people, like Huma, can encourage people to wear masks. That’s why we decided to talk to Professor Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit that uses science to help children thrive, a professor of psychology at UPenn and a MacAurthor fellow. Professor Duckworth says that reinforcing social norms through positive peer pressure and the media is one idea.  

Professor Duckworth: You know, it’s very hard to get a teenager to do something that very few teenagers are doing. They look around and they’re like, nobody else is doing that. Right? So social norms are important at every age, but especially when you’re a teenager. Like that’s very hard to get a teenager to do, but now I think they look, you know, you walk down the sidewalk and you see other teenagers wearing masks, you’ll likely do that. So the media can help reinforce what I think is a trending social norm towards mask wearing in teens.

Isabel: In addition to positive reinforcement in the news media, Professor Duckworth believes that a youth-driven response could be the best way to encourage mask wearing.

Professor Duckworth: I just think that teenagers are among the most idealistic and purpose-driven individuals in the society. And they are very motivated by fairness. You know, I mean, this is why a lot of teenagers are the reasons behind you know climate change activism or social justice issues, or manning the polls this fall. Like it’s a lot of, it’s like major grass roots stuff. So I think harnessing the teenage motivation to be part of something greater than themselves and to make society better might be good. 

Isabel: Professor Duckworth stresses that giving resources to young activists is the best way to support youth-driven initiatives to increase mask wearing among their generation.

Melissa: Overall, wearing masks and avoiding those without them, as Dr. McFadden says, can help reduce our anxiety and serve as a form of empowerment. As our experts point out, you can take action by wearing your mask to protect yourself and others, which not only improves your own mental health but also sets an example for those around you about how to stop the spread of Covid-19.  

Isabel: As Professor Duckworth reminds us, today’s young people have taken on many of our greatest social issues. To those listening, remember that you can also find ways to positively influence mask wearing while inspiring others to do the same! A special thank you to Huma, Dr. McFadden, and Professor Duckworth for sharing their experiences in this episode. Melissa and I are young writers for #MaskPledge, a campaign started by scientists from Harvard Medical School to educate others on the importance of mask wearing.

Melissa: Learn more about us by heading to maskpledge.org or following us on social media @maskpledge. Thank you for listening to Channel Kindness Radio!

Melissa Lent and Isabel Gouse

Melissa Lent is a journalist and content creator based in New York City. She has a strong interest in health and wellness, investigative news, multimedia production, and local stories. She's currently a visiting fellow for Center for an Urban Future and a Media Studies lecturer for her alma mater. Melissa graduated from CUNY Hunter College with one BA in Media Studies and another in Creative Writing. Her mission in life is to highlight the invisible stories through innovative storytelling. Isabel Gouse is currently working at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as a NYC Urban Fellow. She has a strong interest in public health and ensuring that people from all backgrounds have access to quality care. Isabel recently graduated from CUNY Hunter College with majors in Political Science and Public Policy. She intends to continue pursuing a career in public health and focus on advocating for increased access to sexual and reproductive care both domestically and abroad.

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