CSUB psychology professors, students weigh in on the mental health of teens during the pandemic

May 4, 2021 /

In March of 2020, many teenagers were taken out of their norm and forced to cut off the majority of their in-person socialization, and after a year of isolation, they are in the process of getting back to normalcy of interacting with friends and family.

This type of transition can have an effect on students, whether they were struggling before this pandemic or not. Because of this transition, Cal State Bakersfield psychology professors and students say it is important for adults around them to do what they can to make it smooth.

“To validate their struggles, that’s a struggle that them as a parent did not have to face so it’s hard to understand,” said Denisse Silva, a third-year CSUB psychology graduate student. “At that age it’s a pivotal part of their life to be around other people of their own age. That not being there, lets just have more compassion towards those kids.”

CSUB’s Masters in psychology program ranked number eight in the nation by psychologydegreeguide.org. The founder and CEO of psychologydegreeguide.org, John Samarin, told CSUB news that when choosing the colleges for the list they look at “…which schools truly excel when it comes to academics, curriculum, affordability and student support.”

“I think the main thing is we have a really good faculty. They’re a pretty cohesive bunch. We approach training in very similar ways so there’s not a lot of division so we’re good at that,” said William Kelly, Associate professor and director of the MS Counseling in Psychology Program at CSUB. “Also, we have a really good clinic — our counseling training clinic. That, I think, is a big part in our success as well in really being able to train students well. It’s a service to the community as well cause it’s low cost therapy.”

The students in the program run the low-cost clinic. For her clinical hours, has gotten to work with children during these past two years; however, this past year has presented a whole new challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“(The field) allowed us to kind of process the change with each other,” said Silva explaining how her professors made the transition, due to the pandemic, to online easier. “They would hold space for us to talk about what this means and how it’s affecting us.”

Silva described the teacher holding that space as helpful because hearing other student’s tell how they had the same story and struggles helped her to realize how much she was affected and overwhelmed. 

Because of the challenges the pandemic has presented to so many people, mental health has become a mainstream topic, and people are trying to find ways to help it improve, especially in teens. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only 59 percent of children with anxiety get treatment. Some say it’s because receiving counseling or therapy carries a stigma, suggesting that something is wrong with someone if they need counseling.

However that is not the case and counseling can help people in many ways. Silva said her love for the field comes from seeing people who she described as having “no life” become joyful and happy again after receiving therapy. 

However, therapy is not always a possibility for teens struggling right now during the pandemic. To help students in these situations, Silva also recommends giving kids activities that get them off of their phones and possibly outside. For schools she recommends opening up spaces for students to talk about what they are struggling with, like social anxiety groups.

As students transition back to in-person school, Kelly says all staff members can play a role in helping students maintain good mental health.

“I think (teachers) have to make a big effort to make sure that the kids are going to feel safe and included together to get over that awkward feeling,” said Kelly. “It’s mostly the adults who have to make a big effort to create these environments. The young folks, their only job should have to be becoming who they are and just feeling safe and secure in developing.”

Teen years are when a lot of people start developing their personality and communication with others has a big hand in that, experts say. One way for parents and teachers to help the students during this time is just to open the line of communication so kids feel comfortable coming to them for help. 

“My advice would be to provide a support system to try your best to have dinner together, talk to your kids, share your life, and assure them that you’re there,” said Luis Vega, a social psychology professor at CSUB. “To know that there are support systems as a parent too. To reach and not be scared because all of us are in need of that support system.”

JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.