The coronavirus pandemic took a toll on everyone, people from all walks of life. Many lost their jobs. Millions of individuals and families lost their loved ones to COVID or other illnesses during this time. Unfortunately, some families did not get a chance to say proper goodbyes to their lost loved ones. That blanket of grief is hefty; many are still reeling from that trauma.
Before the pandemic, individuals who had witnessed trauma, whether in childhood or adulthood, found themselves in a similar state of helplessness, thus leading to a sudden onset of anxiety and panic. While many had healed or were in the process of healing, the reemergence of PTSD-related symptoms during the pandemic became a whole different challenge.
The one group of individuals who may have seen the most challenging, scariest, and unexpected times of their life where our young adults from ages 18 to 25. We often hear older adults talk about how impulsive this age group can be. “They live in a world of their own,” “They don’t care what happens to others,” “They’re so self-absorbed”.
But I saw something completely different in them. This age group left me mesmerized, amazed, and so very proud of them. As a human being and a mental health professional, I felt this hope, a conviction, that the world will become a much better place in the hands of these brave people.
In our psychiatric practices, there was a sudden spike in the number of patients in this age group for obvious reasons. They had never experienced or felt anything like this before. They had never had to spend this much time alone, facing their thoughts and anxieties head-on.
Some had just graduated from high school and were looking forward to starting a new life in college. Many of them were excited to leave their parents’ homes and be independent. They were dreaming of living with new friends, finding new connections, exploring the world on their own, and pursuing their dreams. How exciting this time of life can be when you know that you no longer have to live by others’ rules. Having more choices, more freedom, and new dreams created enthusiasm and a sense of being alive during this time of their lives.
But all of a sudden, with absolutely no warning and no preparation, our young adults found themselves in a complete state of confusion, disappointment, and helplessness. As if someone slammed the door to this new exciting world that they were so looking forward to. No in-person class or graduation ceremonies. No hanging out with friends, no meeting new people. Life came to a complete halt.
A strange silence filled their world. Some found themselves crammed with three, four, five people in tiny apartments with very little privacy. Most had to move back with their parents, under the same old rules or rules that were still unclear, as parents found themselves in a similar state of confusion.
College goers had to leave their dorms and return home, and that too within a day or two’s notice. That separation from friends was devastating. Moving back in with parents after getting so used to living entirely independent lives was no fun.
For some who came from abusive or traumatic backgrounds, moving away to college meant the end of that trauma and the beginning of healing. One can imagine the state of helplessness and anxiety that they must have gone through, now that they had to move back to the same triggering atmosphere or continuation of abuse.
Luckily, this generation showed far more courage than their older counterparts, the so-called baby boomers. Many of them sought help. Some reached out to their local crisis centers, health insurance companies, local therapists, and online therapy agencies.
As a psychiatrist and a mother of a young adult myself, I was in awe of how this generation took charge of this sudden shock they found themselves amidst the pandemic. The way I saw them handle the stress, despite all the hurdles they faced, made me realize how wrong we older adults are in our assessment of doubting the potential and capabilities of this age group. Not only did they just hang in there, but they exhibited enormous patience. The way they reset their mindset and reorganized their lives around the pandemic was heartwarming and worth applause.
It was not an easy task for students to attend Zoom classes for hours on their laptops. But most of them were able to finish their credits on time somehow! Unfortunately, those who had to drop out due to certain situations still got the hang of things. Some of them decided to take it easy, which is fine. Some found jobs. Some chose to join their family business. Some chose to watch over their families or younger siblings and help them with their school work.
Some decided to focus on their mental wellbeing. Either through therapy or medications, they decided to take accountability and make mental well-being their priority. They learned healthier ways of coping. They became aware that these times are new and different for them. They evolved in intune with their inner self and discovered their challenges, or even how they are naturally gifted with the skills to handle adversity as human beings.
Imagine the excitement of having to celebrate graduations with friends and families. Walk across the stage to collect those diplomas. But this time, our young adults had to settle with the virtual graduations.
My own daughter graduated from the college of her dreams this spring. I was so proud to see how she and her friends made the best of the virtual live-stream graduation ceremony instead of an in-person one. She and her friends took pictures in their academic outfits, and even though there was some sense of loss and disappointment from not being able to witness all of this in person, they were still able to make the best of it and create some everlasting memories.
Yes! Most of the people in this age group struggled initially, got anxious, sad, frustrated, and even confused. Many of them got consumed with worries about the future. But then watching them handle these disappointments, find gratitude in whatever was in store, stay connected with their friends in so many creative ways proved how grounded and emotionally intelligent they can be.
I hope that they continue to recognize their strengths, their potential and feel equally proud of themselves, for they have what it takes years of mindfulness, practice, and patience to build in a given individual.
They are not only intelligent and tech advanced, but equally creative, forward-thinking, flexible, accommodating, respectful of each other’s differences, diverse, and open-minded. Most of them may have already known this about themselves. But the pandemic proved that they are gifted with patience and an ability to bounce back as well.
It is ok if many of them are still struggling. Struggling with uncertainty, anxiety, or any other emotional challenges, but I do not doubt that they all will handle this. They dare to seek help. They do not shy away from showing their true self to the world. They are authentic. And guess what? Waters may be a little harsh right now, but they will sail through with pride, grit, and hope for better times, a better future.
When they look back at these difficult moments, they will say for sure, “since we survived this pandemic, we can survive and thrive in whatever future challenge life has in store for us.”
With hope and best wishes,