The COVID-19 outbreak, undoubtedly, was the most influential event of the year 2020. Over the course of the year, shutdowns and restrictions have been implemented around the world. Even with these measures in place, the global death toll has topped one million people.
On paper, the effects of this outbreak are easy to observe. But beyond the things that can be easily measured and observed, the problems caused by the global pandemic extend even deeper. One group in particular that has been notably affected has been individuals age 12 to 17.
The teenage years can already be incredibly challenging. The physical, biological, and social changes associated with puberty (and middle/high school) increase the likelihood of facing mental health challenges. Teenagers, when compared to other age groups, are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, and other remarkable challenges.
If you are a parent of a teenager, it is important to recognize the challenges this year has subjected them to. In this article, we will discuss how the COVID-19 outbreak has uniquely affected teenagers. By taking the time to sincerely address these issues, you may be able to play an important role in helping your teenager live their best life.
Depression and Anxiety
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with mental health challenges related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to mitigation activities, including the impact of physical distancing and stay-at-home orders.” The report later states, “Symptoms of anxiety disorder and depressive disorder increased considerably in the United States during April—June 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.”
Teenagers are already statistically more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder than members of other age groups. According to Polaris Teen Center, a leading residential treatment center in California, about 7 percent of teens experience severe depression. These conditions can have a tremendous impact on a teen’s family life, social life, and ability to perform in school and pursue long-term goals. If your teen has been exhibiting symptoms of depression, anxiety, and related conditions, it is important to connect them with the resources they need.
One of the most notable changes spurred by the outbreak has been the widespread use of either partial or total virtual schooling. While it is clear that virtual schooling is better than no schooling at all, evidence continues to emerge that students—especially those with learning disabilities and other challenges—do not learn as well via digital alternatives.
One recent survey of teenagers revealed that “Sixty percent of teens say that online learning is worse than in-person learning, and nearly one fifth say it’s much worse.” Lack of in-person communications, being left out from interacting with peers, and lack of structural discipline all contribute to teens struggling with learning new materials. Furthermore, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal revealed that teens have been particularly struggling with math, suggesting that “catching up” in the subject could take three months or more for many teens.
Lack of Access to Mental Health Resources
While the primary purpose of going to school is to learn, it is important to recognize that schools provide so much more than education. In many cases, schools are the most direct route for students to access mental health resources, such as school counselors and other trusted adults outside of their family. In some cases, schools are also a student’s most reliable way to access food, which can directly impact their mental well-being.
The lack of access to mental health resources has caused some mental health issues to remain unnoticed or, even when noticed, unaddressed. Because mental health issues have a compounding effect over time, this increases the likelihood of underperformance and harmful behaviors. While virtual mental health resources are likely not as effective as in-person alternatives, they can still be beneficial for many teens in need. Even if your teen has not exhibited signs of depression and anxiety, be sure to check up on them at least once per month.
Substance Abuse Challenges
According to the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychiatry, “COVID-19 related social isolation and stress can increase susceptibility of substance misuse, addiction, and relapse.” This poses a unique risk to teens, in particular, who are more likely than other age groups to be experimenting with substance use (including alcohol) for the very first time. Furthermore, evidence also suggests that individuals with substance abuse challenges are also more likely to develop COVID-19 and experience more intense symptoms.
When paired with other mental health issues, substance abuse issues can create incredible challenges for teens and young adults. In order to provide holistic solutions that address the unique relationship between these challenges, many leading residential treatment centers will implement a practice known as dual diagnosis. Teen substance abuse should not be expected to go away on their own. Connecting your teen with information and resources, and providing consistent support will help them along the difficult road to cover.
Conclusion: Connecting Your Teen with the Resources They Need
Among the few mental health bright spots spurred by the COVID-19 outbreak is that teens have been spending more time with their family and spending more time eating meals as a family. Family time has been correlated with better mental health outcomes, though this time alone should not be considered a substitute for mental health services.
If your teen has exhibited any signs of mental health issues, it is important to be proactive as a parent. There are many online resources available and, when needed, in-person mental health services are usually categorized as essential. Mental health struggles are never easy for teens nor their parents. But by playing an active role, learning about teen mental health, and consistently communicating with your teen, you can make an important difference.