How has online learning and quarantine affected teenage mental health?

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Serotonin Pathways and Usages 

Article by: Alexandra Owens, and Medically reviewed by: Farah Fazel. “Serotonin: Affecting Consciousness, Attention, Cognition, and Emotion.” Psycom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1996, 12 Oct. 2020, www.psycom.net/serotonin.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that sends signals to different parts of the brain and body. Serotonin is manufactured in the brain, but is found in the digestive system and in platelets in the bloodstream. The body uses serotonin in many ways. It helps the body to regulate mood and levels of happiness, it aids in digestion, controls nausea, helps to clot blood, maintains bone health, and regulates sleep cycles. 

How is serotonin synthesized?

Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, which we consume through foods such as pineapple, eggs, turkey, etc. The tryptophan is first hydroxylated by an enzyme called tryptophan hydroxylase, to form 5- hydroxytryptophan. The 5- hydroxytryptophan is decarboxylated by the enzyme decarboxylase and this creates the final product: 5- hydroxytryptamine aka serotonin. In this form, serotonin functions as a neurotransmitter and can bind to the different serotonin receptors to undergo the bodily functions that were mentioned previously. 

Sun, Serotonin, and the Body

Azmitia, Efrain C. “Evolution of Serotonin: Sunlight to Suicide.” Handbook of Behavioral Neuroscience, Elsevier, 22 Jan. 2020, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444641250000013.

What does it mean to be serotonin deficient?

If the body is not producing sufficient amounts of serotonin, it is likely that the brain will have emotional reactions to this particular chemical imbalance. Many studies prove that low levels of serotonin often result in behavioral and/ or emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and even suicidal behavior. 

What are ways to improve serotonin levels? 

  1. Increased amounts of sunlight or light therapy
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Healthy diet and increased consumption of serotonin filled foods (pineapple, eggs, cheese, salmon, turkey, tofu, nuts)
  4. Meditation

Natural Ways to Increase Serotonin Production

Segurado, Oscar. “4 Natural Boosters of Serotonin, Our Emotional Fluid.” Mindful Framing, 2 Sept. 2019, mindfb.com/4-natural-boosters-of-serotonin-your-emotional-fluid.

How is the COVID- 19 pandemic related to a decrease in serotonin levels?

As people are pushed indoors, it has increased the “number of people [who] are experiencing depression or low mood due to social isolation and a vitamin D deficiency.” (Sue Penckofer PhD, RN) Less outdoor activities have been partaken in this year due to the pandemic and that has not only led to less physically healthy lifestyles, but also a large decline in mental health. 

Sun to Serotonin Relationship

Both sunlight and darkness trigger a release of hormones. The exposure to sunlight increases the release of serotonin. Without sufficient sun exposure, serotonin levels are likely to fall. Decreased exposure to sunlight can cause depression with seasonal patterns. When sunlight enters the eye, it sparks cues in different areas of the retina, which provokes the release of serotonin. According to Healthline, you are more likely to experience seasonal triggered depression in the winter because of the lack of sun. 

Without enough serotonin, the body will most likely have a difficult time producing melatonin, which is the hormone that contributes to sleep cycles. Without maintaining a proper sleep schedule, or without enough sleep, the body is also very susceptible to having behavioral or emotional disorders, or just overall exhaustion.

What Serotonin Does for the Body During Different Hours of the Day

Liew, Michelle. “Roles of Melatonin and Serotonin in Sleep and How to Boost Them.” Life Advancer, 6 May 2018, www.lifeadvancer.com/melatonin-and-serotonin-sleep/.

My argument about the sun- serotonin relationship and COVID-19

According to Healthline.com, seasonally patterned depression is most likely to spark in the winter due to the lack of sunlight and vitamin-D. I would say that the same applies and has applied during the past year of the pandemic. Having to stay inside has limited social interaction which has limited our sources of oxytocin and as we have stayed inside serotonin deficiency has increased. 

Looking at the numbers…

After running a survey by teenagers in grades 8- 12, I have discovered some patterns between levels of happiness of those who have been getting their exercise and going outdoors and of those who have not. Below, I have linked some screen shots from two random surveys and I would like to discuss how I viewed them. In sample 1, we see that the respondent has been outside consistently through the “COVID year” and they have also maintained a level of happiness on the higher side of the spectrum (rating of 1-10). This person says that they have continued numerous extracurriculars and have been able to attend school in person. On the other hand, sample subject #2 disclosed that they only went out when necessary and their shared that their level of happiness has remained on the lower side of the scale during the past year. They share that they are getting a bit of exercise by playing softball and that they are still participating in online learning. As we see, the respondent who was outside more was overall happier. I would definitely say that the sun is a major contributor to maintaining the happiness of these students and the data listed supports this claim. 

  Sample Survey Results

Take the Survey Here

How do we combat this?

As states are starting to open up, some of these issues should start to resolve themselves, however there are many steps we can take within school systems to encourage students to improve their mental health. Being outside, exercising, or simply sitting in the sun, away from the world of screens that we have been sucked into within the past year are all things that will help to increase serotonin production. Schools and health classes need to do a better job at creating a healthy image of what eating and working out should look like so students are less prone to follow toxic dieting and workout fads that they are likely to see on social media. I think that creating groups or clubs in support of mental health or creating safe spaces on school campuses will encourage a more open and healthier conversation about what good mental health looks like. 

Works Cited

7 Comments

7 comments

  1. Jessie,
    Great job! You presented some excellent information and descriptions of what leads to mental health issues. I am concerned for all our students and what they have gone through this past year and your empathy for them is evident in your response.

  2. Hey Jessie!
    I really like your topic and your approach! I have noticed this pattern as well and I applaud you for proposing a solution!

  3. Hey, I really like the way you went about this and are working on something that is very close to home with everyone right now due to covid and al the issues it has caused. mental health is a big deal and needs to be taken seriously. you did a great job.

  4. Amazing job Jessie!
    I loved how informative and relevant your presentation was! I had no idea the effect my daily routine (what I eat, how much I exercise) would have on my happiness level. I’m definitely going to keep your project in mind from here on out!

  5. Really cool project Jessie!
    I love how much information and research you put into the project on such a relevant topic. I definitely think I will try out some of the idea’s you listed in my daily routine to try and get me out of the rut that online school always puts me in

  6. Hi Jessie!
    I loved your topic. It is an issue that is very significant and I am glad you did some research on it. I can definitely tell you are passionate about this topic as there is a ton of information and research! I can’t wait to try some of the ideas that you gave us for a healthier lifestyle!

  7. Hi Jessie! Incredible work! It was really interesting to learn about online learning and the quarantine effect in terms of the biological aspects. I have been studying remotely for a year, and somehow I can feel its impacts on my mental health. I will definitely try the ways that you recommend for improving serotonin levels. You explained different concepts in a really great way so I could easily learn many new things. Overall I think your website is super interesting! Great job!

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