Increasing depression and psychological complaints in young people

As a result of the corona crisis, 60% of the European population suffers more than normal from depression and psychological complaints. The approaching autumn and winter months, combined with the tightened corona measures, can lead to a worrying situation. One in which psychological complaints that people experience are intensified by the winter weather. One third of the European people sometimes suffer from winter depression or a milder winter dip.

The use of mouth masks


No one likes the corona measures, let us be quite honest about that. They hardly add anything to the reduction in the number of infections, but you can get sick of them yourself. This is because a patch like this in front of your mouth becomes, when used, one large collection of germs and bacteria. However, the most important product to live on, oxygen, has to enter through that patch of dust. So along the accumulated collection of viruses, germs and bacteria.

In case of prolonged use you are continuously exposed to this. Physically, this is not a desirable situation and there is enough scientific evidence to prove that it does nothing to prevent infections. You may wonder why it is done on a massive scale anyway. Because if it’s only a signal for the other person: “Look at me doing it right”, then you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Because precisely because of this mouth shield, you might be the next one coughing and toasting between the sheets.

Boy wearing mouth mask

Depression and psychological complaints, anxiety and gloom


But in addition to the undesirable use of mouth masks, there are other measures that can make us ill, namely social distance and the restriction of fun activities (closure/limitation of catering, sports clubs, competitions, visits, physical contact, etc.). This definitely has its effect, children are flexible but also vulnerable and sensitive. It is therefore not surprising that they currently feel less healthy and are more likely to suffer from anxiety and gloom because of the corona measures.
Research during the first lockdown by a team of researchers from the Emma Children’s Hospital of Amsterdam UMC has shown this. Arne Popma, professor of child and youth psychiatry, recently called in the TV program Buitenhof to make the mental health of European youth a joint social priority: “At home, at school, at the sports club and with all youth professionals. We can increase the resilience of children and families and thus prevent complaints from getting worse in severity and number”.

Less healthy, more sleeping problems


Approximately 1,000 children and young people between the ages of 8 and 18 participated in the study in April 2020. Preliminary results show that, compared to 2018, these children indicate that they feel less healthy and have less contact with their peers. They have 5% more sleeping problems, 7% more anger, a 10% increase in gloominess and as many as 15% more anxiety complaints. The percentage of children with anxiety complaints so severe that they should at least be offered help doubled from 8% to 16%.

Lack of sleep negatively affects teens

Corona measures make symptom management more difficult


Marie-José van Tol, cognitive neuroscientist and psychologist at the UMCG and the RUG, advised in 2019 on a number of things one can do to reduce a winter dip or depression: exercise, (more) going outside, sleeping better and maintaining social contact. The crux during the corona crisis? The corona measures make it difficult to follow these advices. In fact, the solutions Van Tol mentions, we all implement less through the measures. There is less sport, people go outside less, sleep worse and a large part of the population is lonelier due to the lack of social contacts.

In short: the solutions to combat winter depression and psychological complaints are being nipped in the bud during the corona period. The possible consequence is that the psychological complaints of people with winter dip or depression are amplified by the corona measures and vice versa. There is therefore a potential negative synergy.

More anger in large families


90 % of children give a negative answer to the question ‘How are all the corona rules for you? “Above all, they indicate that they missed contact with friends during the lockdown, were no longer allowed to go to school and could not play sports,” explains Popma. “In addition, the children indicate that the atmosphere at home has deteriorated. A corona infection in one’s own family and among friends turns out to be an important predictor of the increase in fear and gloom. The loss of parents’ jobs also makes them more anxious. The family composition determines the outcome: more children within the family causes more anger and frustration. Children from a single-parent family experience more sleeping problems and anxiety complaints.

Mental health monitoring of young people


Popma says it is crucial to keep in touch with young people and families. “Together with young people, we need to think with parents, professionals and politicians about how young people can stay in touch with each other and with trusted adults. And how we can offer support in a way that appeals to young people. This can be digital, in a walk-in location, or by going to young people as a counsellor. We can learn an awful lot from these times; also from the young people who indicated during the first lockdown that they experienced peace and quiet by, for example, reducing school stress“.

What can you do? Five tips!


1) (Outdoor) sports!


Exercise helps to counter the symptoms of depression and psychological complaints or gloominess. And although there are currently no more than four people at one and a half meters in a team and no more competitions are allowed, it is always possible to do an outdoor workout or run a lap. Two birds with one stone; going outside (or staying outside) is also an important remedy against winter depression. The body is more in contact with sunlight. Especially morning light inhibits the production of melatonin. This is because this light then contains a relatively large amount of blue. Doing a sports session in the morning is therefore a doubly good idea. Not athletic? No problem! Ten minutes a day can make a big difference. Take a stroll down a street, have a relaxing yoga session, make fun in the water or go for a bike ride. That should even be possible for the anti-sportsman.

2) Sufficient (sun) light


Go outside as much as possible to pick up that little bit of sunlight that is there now. Your body yearns for it. If there is not enough sunlight because dark clouds are moving over our land, light therapy can be an option. This appears to be an effective and proven approach to mimic sunlight and reduce depression and psychological complaints. Sitting in front of a special lamp (without UV light) for a few days to weeks every morning can reduce or prevent winter depression. Please note: light therapy is also used to combat serious skin conditions. In that case, the basic insurance covers the costs. Light therapy treatments against winter depression will not be reimbursed under the compulsory healthcare insurance. However, the costs of a lamp may sometimes be covered under a supplementary insurance.

3) Daily structure


Try to apply regularity in the days, even if the kids (and you) come home at any next lockdown. Get up at set times and go to bed at set times. Don’t sleep late and don’t go to bed too late. Maintaining a healthy day and night rhythm is a challenge for people with depression, but it certainly pays to do so. In addition to the structure of the day and night rhythm, it is also important to eat as healthily as possible and on a regular basis. Eating at fixed times ensures a stable blood sugar level and maintains your energy supply. If your body is not fed on time it will switch to a survival state and create stress hormones. These stress hormones can make your depressive feelings worse again. Not desirable. Depression and psychological complaints can make you forgetful, to prevent things from being forgotten you can make a daily to-do list.

4) Distraction


Distraction will do your son or daughter good. Maybe he is open to a new hobby? What can make him relax? What can make him happy again? Find out together. Distraction gives you breathing room. Breathing exercises can also provide rest and relaxation. Perhaps it’s an idea to start a positivity booklet. A booklet in which you can store all kinds of photos, experiences, quotes or other material that will cheer you up. Think of inspiring one-liners, beautiful thoughts, drawings, newspaper clippings, turn it into a beautiful personal booklet. This is not only good for distractions, but it also provides a nice grip at difficult moments during depression or gloomy thoughts.

5) Social contacts


Keep a close eye on the kids and adolescents and talk to them. Let them know that they are not alone in their depression and psychological complaints. Encourage them to talk to people they trust and – within the legal possibilities – let them maintain as many social contacts as possible. Does he not come out on his own or do you notice that the depression is getting worse? Then don’t hesitate to call in professional help. Contact your family doctor and discuss the possibilities with him.

Give him sufficient compliments and be kind to him. Especially when he has done a difficult job. For example, that could be when he has walked that part of the way outside, when he was so reluctant to do it. It can be small steps, but those small steps can be important. See him in his pain and despondency and don’t trivialise it.

Worrying development


In the struggle to do the best they can, some schools are completely wrong. For example, Vechtdal College Hardenberg, which made a special film for the “Conscious Distancing Pupil (BAL)”. Instead of making the pupils feel good and helping them in a positive way during this difficult time, they made a video with the message: “If you don’t participate, we will kick you out of school”. Then a kind of gassing takes place on the playground. Are we really completely detached from God? Please let us all continue to be normal and not stigmatise, demonise and damage children any further. Excluding children is never normal!
It is not an easy time for our children and we must try together to ensure that they are damaged as little as possible. We as parents are responsible for them, we have to protect them as much as possible and together we have to make sure that they get as little damage as possible from this period of time! Dare to speak to the other person about this, even if it is necessary, including the school board if necessary.

Keep an eye on the children and adolescents, because they must not be the ones to suffer and foot the bill… Our sons and daughters are entitled to our protection. Be alert to the signals they send out, before it is too late…

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