Words by Dr Stan Steindl – Clinical Psychologist
Grade 12 in high school is such an important year in so many ways. Academically, of course, but also socially, in sports and the arts. Young people are traditionally having peak experiences during grade 12, and many of us might reflect fondly on experiences we had around that time. Not that it is all a bed of roses, of course. Grade 12 is also a very tough year, with lots of study and stress, especially regarding what’s going to happen next.
This year, out of no where, everything changed. All that was expected to happen basically vanished when COVID arrived. Study and exams were all different, young people had to be super-flexible and mentally agile to make all sorts of sudden shifts. For some, the transition worked ok, but for many there was increases in anxiety and stress, and at times depression.
Anxiety is a future oriented emotion. “What if I fail?” “What if I can’t get into uni or a trade?” “What if my dream job doesn’t exist anymore.” Young people are seeing the effects of the pandemic on the community and on people they know. And so, for example, dreams of being a pilot are now very uncertain.
Depression is largely a past oriented emotion. And often about things that have gone wrong, disappointments and losses. And young people in grade 12 have had many of those. Team sports? Canceled. School play? Canceled. Formal? Canceled. Let alone being able to hang out with mates on the weekend. And don’t forget, friends are such an important part of any young person’s social support and coping, and this is experienced as a great loss.
And so, what will next year bring? Young people in grade 12 face a very uncertain future. They know the economy has taken a hit. The know that many jobs have had to stop, and that the job market is difficult. They know that universities are struggling, and uni places are somewhat uncertain. But, knowing all this, Grade 12 students are starting to adapt. If not this, then what about that?
Young adulthood can be a time of great optimism and hope. Every day there are new experiences, new ideas and opportunities. And for all that is going on the world still does offer opportunities. The growth in certain industries has been phenomenal. From healthcare to deliveries, and anything online, there seems to be growth. And the opportunities for entrepreneurship are endless.
So where possible, we want to offer young people three key things: validation, reassurance and encouragement. Validation means validating that this really is as awful as they feel it is. This is tough, upsetting, and we wish it wasn’t so. Reassurance means finding words to reassure the young person that things will be ok, this too will pass, they will get there and the world will find its new normal. And encouragement is about saying “You can do it, I believe in you,” and exploring those possibilities, gently guiding things towards hope and optimism, confidence and action.