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Gone home for break? Keep a check on mental health this pandemic holiday season

The average age of when people start experiencing mental health issues is when you’re a teenager, 14 or 15.

BRYAN, Texas — With the Thanksgiving break, Texas A&M has officially gone to virtual learning for the rest of the semester. Just as students went home in March to protect themselves and their loved ones from the coronavirus, they are doing so again, but it's far from easy this second time around.

“Research says that isolation can lead to mental health concerns whether it’s loneliness, anxiety, depression, grief," said Dr. Marcia Ory of the Texas A&M Public School of Health. "If they go home and people in their community have been impacted negatively by COVID, that’s going to cause some grief. It’s also the uncertainty, it’s not knowing whether they’ll be impacted or if their loved ones will be, so there’s a lot of reasons why we should really attend to mental health concerns."

Mental health concerns do not discriminate against one’s age or background.

“The average age of when people start experiencing mental health issues is when you’re a teenager, 14 or 15," said Dr. Ory. "The impact of loneliness, of being away from your friends, of the reentry, whether you’re a student or adult is often difficult. It’s reestablishing relationships with your peers. It’s reestablishing relationships with your teachers and all of that takes really good mental health skills."

Signs and symptoms of declining mental health may be more difficult to see over the phone or video chat.  

“You can tell if someone usually is meticulous about their appearance and they’re not, even in a Zoom. Maybe they lose their train of thought and trail off or maybe they’re just sad or maybe they’re posting things on social media that are alarming," said Erin Wilhite, who is with NAMI Brazos Valley.

As students transition home, they may also present a physical threat to those they live with.  

“I worry about people feeling guilty if someone around them gets COVID. We’ve heard that young people are less likely to suffer bad side effects or bad results of COVID," said Wilhite. "I’m concerned if someone in their family gets it, how will that make them feel if they might have been the carrier."

Dr. Ory and Wilhite said social interactions are especially important to maintaining one’s mental health during this time. NAMI has an online support group for families of people suffering from mental health issues. Family members do not have to be diagnosed, and parents are always welcome to join.