Earlier this year, high school student Sophia Ruselle noticed a shift in her close friend’s behaviour.
Her friend was withdrawn and distant. He had no motivation, his outlook on life had become hopeless, he was always sleeping and his moods were all over the place.
Ruselle recognized that her friend was suffering from depression. When he began to self-harm, she notified his family before the situation could escalate.
She knew all too well the seriousness of untreated depression. In November of last year, she attempted to take her own life. Her suicide attempt was a culmination of the stress invoked by the frequent lockdowns and school closures.
A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide attempts among teenage girls were 50.6 per cent higher during the pandemic.
“The constant switching from online to offline made it hard to feel like there was consistency,” Ruselle says. “Which is something I need.”
Ontario schools have been closed for 20 weeks throughout the pandemic, longer than any other Canadian province or territory.
Many parents have noticed a shift in their children’s behaviour, says a middle school social worker who has requested to remain anonymous.
Parents reported their children as having no motivation, exhibiting prolonged low moods and avoiding virtual school.
“The issues raised were all connected very close to the pandemic situation and the disruptions of routines—both at home and at school,” the social worker says.
High school student Lillie Fauteux says that while she never really liked school, she misses the structure it offered her. She admits that the initial school closures left her feeling depressed and struggling to do basic activities like showering and brushing her teeth.
“I just felt like there was no reason to take care of myself,” she says.
Fauteux has also found herself feeling more isolated during the pandemic, as the lockdown restrictions have prohibited her from seeing people outside of her household.
Social media has been a great tool during the pandemic, but it cannot replicate the much needed person-to-person interactions adolescents thrive on, says the social worker.
High school student Rori Phillips has also found herself feeling isolated and depressed during the lockdowns. While she finds it difficult to monitor her own mental health sometimes, she is very diligent towards keeping track of the mental health of her friends because she feels there is a lack of resources through her school.
It’s a sentiment that Fauteux and Russelle echo; aside from a few lessons discussing depression and anxiety during health class, they say there hasn’t been much done to help and the responsibility has fallen onto their shoulders to monitor their friends’ mental health.
They’ve each taken measures to support their friends, like daily check-ins on Snapchat, monitoring shifts in behaviour and reaching out to family members if the situation grows serious, like Russelle did for her friend earlier in the year.
“I don’t want to lose anyone,” Russelle says. “I couldn’t deal with that.”
While it’s too soon to know the long-lasting effects the pandemic will have on youth and their mental health, it’s safe to say they’ve displayed an enduring dedication to their friends.
Throughout the confusion and chaos, Phillips explains that her friends were her anchor and they got each other through the pandemic.
“All that mattered,” she says, “is that we had each other throughout this shitty year.”
How to spot friends struggling with their mental health
Watch for changes in behaviour
Is your friend snapping more than usual? Do they usually go out for jogs but now can’t seem to muster the energy to get out of bed?
Changes in behaviour and demeanour can be a sign of depression. If you find your friend not acting like themselves, keep a closer eye out for other symptoms.
Monitor physical symptoms
Depression can produce various physical effects like stomach pains and headaches. It can also cause some people to neglect basic hygiene, such as showering and brushing their teeth. Since these symptoms can sometimes be easier to spot, it’s important to monitor them.
Ways to help
If you discover a friend is dealing with depression, one of the most important ways to help is to simply listen and validate their feelings. It can also be helpful to offer to do errands or other tasks for them, like groceries or laundry.
If they are expressing suicidal thoughts or self-harming, urge them to seek medical care immediately or call a mental health crisis hotline, such as Canada Suicide Prevention Service, Kids Help Phone or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Remember that there is no “cure” for depression
A person who is depressed can have good days, but it doesn’t mean they’re cured. Depression doesn’t go away overnight—be prepared for your friends to experience bad days and try to remain patient.
High school student Sophia Ruselle has come a long way since her suicide attempt in November 2020, and now meets regularly with a therapist. But she still has days when she wants to disappear and her friends are understanding when she needs to unplug for a while. Perform periodic check-ins on your friends, but don’t be hurt if they just want to be alone for a while.
Take care of yourself too!
It can be tempting to want to drop everything to help a friend with depression, but you won’t be much help to them if you neglect yourself. Etch out time for self-care and remember that while you care about your friend, you are not a health care professional and it’s OK to set boundaries if you are feeling emotionally drained.