Teen mental health crisis induced by pandemic affects class of 2021

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A year ago, many fretted about the class of 2020 missing out on the ritual of graduation. That worry has characterized much of the experience of the class of 2021, who are now facing down the same ceremony-free graduation.

At DePaul College Prep, as at many other schools in the Chicago area, seniors missed out the rituals and milestones of senior year.

"I was super frustrated at the fact that this is what life is right now," Ava Budziszewki, student, said.

Budziszewski and Cameron Lewis are what most people would consider happy good students. But even they fought feelings of hopelessness and confusion as they missed out on friends, basketball practices, and other rituals of senior year.

"I found myself in my room upset a lot," Budziszewski said. "I found myself thinking negatively and just not being myself. I felt like I lost a part of myself."

"I was definitely surprised in my feelings," said Lewis. "I found myself in my room, sometimes, a little sad and kind of emotional for things that I, like, probably take for granted."

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They're not alone. Compass Health Center provides care of people whose mental health needs fall between seeing a therapist weekly and needing hospitalization. They have seen a 35% increase in patient load for their adolescent program in the past year. Young adults get a team-based approach of psychiatric and cognitive therapy.

"One of the most powerful things they talk about, when they are coming into Compass for in-person group therapy, is the power of seeing the are not alone, that there are other kids who are in the exact same place as they are in," said Dr. Claudia Welke, chief medical officer at Compass Health Center.

Experts say the class of 2021 is walking toward their futures without the senior year memory-making moments that subtly prepare them for massive change.

DePaul College Prep school counselors used Zoom and modified programs to help, but the key is monitoring seniors closely.

For mental health professions and those that care for kids like these, the hope is adversity will build strength.
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