COVID-19 creates mental health crisis for Gen Z


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Abby Weaver spends most of her time in front of a computer these days. She’s just like the rest of us in a lot of ways.

“The biggest part of my depression is a fear of the unknown and not knowing what’s going to happen next. And COVID brought that fear to life in pretty much everybody,” Weaver told WAVY.

The pandemic makes planning for the future feel impossible for many young adults and the isolation was more than she could take.

“It got to a point where I’d get up on a Tuesday morning, not a lot of work to do, my daughter is at her grandmas’ — like, it’s 10 am let’s have a glass of wine. Like, no one can judge me right now and then you realize that’s like every day,” she said.

Gen Z adults, college-aged students, report the worst mental health impacts since the pandemic started.

Dr. Elizabeth Collumb with the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Eastern Virginia Medical School sees the effects.

“Alcohol use, cocaine use, opioid use. Also, binge eating,” she said.

Collumb says they received 80 referrals j in just one week recently.

“The reality at this point is we are getting more referrals than we can handle.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports suicide attempts among young people are at an all-time high. Prevention advocates are worried.

“The amount of help for people struggling with their mental health in the Hampton Roads area is not enough.” said Michelle Peterson.

Peterson is the founder of the Sarah Michelle Peterson Foundation, which provides suicide prevention programs throughout Hampton Roads.

They’ve seen a huge increase in social media traffic, people liking and sharing their posts, something she finds both encouraging and potentially dangerous.

“I would certainly never think that there’s something good about a pandemic. However, I do think that people recognizing that a lot of people’s mental health is not OK and being willing to talk about it is something that we’ve been working for.”

Her concern is that people might land on information that could do more harm than good.

“There’s plenty of sensationalized stuff that’s out there that can be triggering to people,” she said.

Peterson stresses the importance of getting information from trusted sources and applauds local efforts to expand mental health care.

The Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters in Norfolk is building a mental health hospital. EVMS is also actively looking to hire more clinicians and expand telehealth services.

These things, however, will take time, which leaves a lot of people who need help now on waiting lists.

Still Collumb says reaching out now and not waiting is critical.

“It is absolutely important to still reach out. There are people. We’re here, we’re trying, we’re going to try to do what we can to help you.”

Meanwhile, Weaver has found comfort in virtual therapy along with other prescribed techniques.

She has a social pod made up of trusted friends. She also connects often to an online community where she has found hope and a new path forward.

“You’re not alone and you can’t give up because we’re all going through the same thing,” Weaver said.

Resources for Mental Health Help:

Crisis Text Line: Text 741-741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained crisis counselor.

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