Today, at the end of the day, I began to panic.
I am worried that the lives of many young people will be destroyed by COVID-19 and I can’t see a way to stop that…yet.
Two months ago, my patients were in school, starting the second semester of high school. Some were applying to college or university. They spoke about what courses they would take and were trying to decide whether they should live on campus. Some of them wanted to work in nursing or as paramedics and they spoke to me about hundreds, thousands of people dying in China. It was sad to them, but it seemed far removed from deciding to live in residence.
Then, in February, they begin to hear about thousands of people dying in Italy. Young people are empathetic and many spoke to me of how difficult it must be to be young in these places, locked down in your home, with so many people dying. In one breath, they lamented the woes of youth in China and Italy, but the next moment, I was shown pictures of grad dresses and the college campuses people had visited.
By March, not only had families cancelled holidays but no one couldn’t get together with their friends. The grandmother of a friend died in a retirement residence – 10 people died there – and graduations and holidays and sports events were cancelled.
School was cancelled and my patients wondered, “Am I going to be able to go to university?”
No one has an answer for them except this one: “Don’t worry. We’ll refund your money.”
But it is like they’re saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll refund your life.” Because youth know that their lives could be ruined forever.
This is what passes through my mind as I start to write a document, “A Plan for Youth Mental Health During and After COVID-19”.
I write this title and I am panicking, consumed by guilt. As someone who grew up in the comfortable seventies, my life has been easier than that of the youth I work with. My generation of white people had the privilege to go to university on ample government loans and to go to work in comfortable government jobs. We were untouched by world wars and economic depressions. I am not well-equipped to help young people through these challenges and that makes me anxious.
To develop my plan of what services will be needed, I am going to go to experts: my own patients. They will tell me what will help them to get through the anxieties they are experiencing.
I know, it’s lame, but at least I’ll be listening – and that might be a change enough from a grown-up.