This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
The coronavirus has impacted every facet of American life, especially when it comes to the mental health of young adults. A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that of the 5,412 participants, a full quarter between ages 18-24 contemplated committing suicide because COVID-19 while 10% of the overall participants (of all ages) said they considered it. Additionally, nearly 31% of the respondents experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression and 26.3% had a trauma or stress-related disorder.
Elaina Suarez is one of those young adults. Stuck at home in Austin, Texas instead of finishing her junior semester at college, Suarez worried frequently. Her parents had paid for an apartment for her at the University of Texas, San Antonio that wasn’t being used and she feared that expense caused extra strain. She felt trapped and isolated because of the COVID-19 crisis. Sometimes, uncertainties flooded her mind. Other times, she just felt sad.
“The pandemic kind of elevated the intensity of (my feelings) and I was super depressed and I was like ‘I'm not going to make it out of here,’” the 21-year-old college senior told TODAY. “I just didn’t feel like myself.”
She felt bad that staying at home made her feel anxious and depressed when other people seemed to be suffering more, such as those sick with the coronavirus or those who had lost a job.
“It is still very stressful. I mean not really knowing what’s happening next,” she said. “That’s the scariest part of it.”
Suarez has social anxiety, general anxiety and depression. Therapy helped her manage the symptoms. At school, she was chapter president of Active Minds — a mental health education and awareness nonprofit for students across the country — and talking about mental health and empowering others provided another outlet for her. But the pandemic took away many of her traditional supports and for a while she felt hopeless. She’d get stuck in a pattern and beat herself up for feeling depressed and anxious.
“I was struggling at first because I was like ‘No, I shouldn't struggle. It’s not like anybody in my family has COVID or anything.’ So I almost felt wrong to admit that something was up mentally,” she explained. “There was a bad time.”
COVID-19 and its impact on metal health
Suarez is not alone. Since the pandemic first started, experts feared mental health would worsen.
“Most of us, if not all of us, have some sense of ongoing uncertainty and anxiety and stress and dread,” Julius Boatwright, CEO and founder of Steel Smiling, a Pittsburgh based organization that connects people of color to mental health resources, told TODAY in March. “We need, as individuals and as a society, for people to acknowledge the weight of this.”
Experts encourage people to reach out for help if they notice a change in their thoughts or behavior. The pandemic has changed how people access therapy with most organizations offering teletherapy until in-person visits are safe. Several national organizations have help lines people can call to find local resources.
- Texting HOME to 741741 for 24/7 support from Crisis Text line.
- Calling the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264, which is staffed by volunteers who have mental health conditions.
- Reaching out to warm lines, which also provide peer support on a local level. The state phone numbers can be found here.
- Calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
- Using the Disaster Distress helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or texting TalkWithUs at 66746.
'Things will get better'
Kristin Rusiecki, 23, has schizoaffective disorder and major depressive disorder. For the past year she has gone to therapy once a week and takes medications after years of being in and out of psychiatric hospitals because of self-harm and suicidal ideation.
“I didn’t believe there was going to be help for me,” Rusiecki of Elon, North Carolina, told TODAY.
While she was stressed out trying to find a job during the pandemic, COVID-19 has had an unexpected positive impact on her mental health. After spending more time together in quarantine, her family seems to understand her better.
“People oftentimes think that schizophrenia is more like psychotic or a psychopath, and psychopaths are completely different,” Rusiecki said. “I want people to give people with mental illness a chance.”
She wants to offer hope to others struggling with their mental health in the middle of a pandemic.
“Things will get better no matter how much you are struggling,” she said. “I am doing so much better than I was.”
Suarez is also doing better. She realized that if she were feeling depressed, anxious and scared, many of her classmates might feel the same way. She started working on a series of tips, that she shared on Zoom calls, to help others.
“I use that platform (Active Minds) to help other people because if I’m feeling this way other people probably are too,” she said.
Her videos of tips included how to reduce anxiety and stress, develop a growth mindset, navigate losses, deal with changes and unpredictable outcomes and engaging in self-care first, to name a few. Helping people through Active Minds helps her grapple with her depression and anxiety. She hopes people reach out for help if they need it and remember they have people who love and support them.
“I can’t tell you how many people I know who have never gone through any mental illness but their mental health is being affected at this time and they don’t even know where to begin,” she said.“If someone is struggling just talk to somebody, anybody.”