UTMB study reveals COVID-19 restrictions caused mental health issues for teens

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Friday, July 22, 2022
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GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new UTMB study shows how COVID-19 restrictions impacted teens, and could cause mental health issues for years to come.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A new study by the University of Texas Medical Branch showed how the pandemic restrictions harmed teens' mental health and could potentially have long-lasting effects.

Life hasn't been the same for Isabella Castle since the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in March 2020.

"Anxiety, social anxiety," Castle explained. "Yes, I was very social before COVID, but I now just stick to myself going into college."

Her boyfriend, Emilio Vallarta, was also impacted by the shutdown. The Castle and Vallarta were juniors in high school in March 2020.

"It was very hard because I'm a really social person," Vallarta said. "Just at home, texting people, it's not how you want to interact with people."

RELATED: ABC13 town hall to focus on Texas' teen mental health crisis

Castle believes that mental health problems were brought on by the restrictions that caused the schools to close and kept her away from friends.

"I didn't have prom," Castle recalled. "I had to learn online."

It's a scenario UTMB researchers wanted to explore further. The school conducted a study of nearly 1,200 teens from the Houston area. The study revealed COVID restrictions severely impacted teens' mental health by increasing stress, anxiety, and depression.

"We need to have those developmental milestones and be healthier, happier, better people," vice dean of research at UTMB Jeff Temple said. "I think this really stunted really stunted that development."

Temple said most teens will be fine, but others will have issues for years. Some signs to look for are: changes in behavior, new sleep patterns, loss of interest in activities, and new friends. You should consider help if the issues impact their daily lives. Teens may not share what they're going through, which is why experts say parents need to be proactive.

"Have a conversation with them about their health and how they're doing emotionally," Temple said.

RELATED: COVID pandemic's mental health burden heaviest among young adults

"They're not going to like it. You're not going to like it. It's going to be awkward for yourself but do it."

Experts said closing schools was the right decision at first to save lives. However, they said the study shows that a different way to educate kids should take place instead of lockdowns because it can leave long-term mental health impacts.

"Even my sister, she's 14. She had many mental health problems during COVID because she's very social," Castle explained. "She likes to be with friends. So did I."

Researchers know that mental health will be an issue in the foreseeable future. They say that there should be investments made in mental health careers. That way, there are enough resources to handle growing COVID cases.

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