A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Teen angst: How the pandemic is creating mental health issues for young people

Teens may be particularly vulnerable to the stresses of the pandemic.

Mental health experts across the country are worried about the impact the pandemic is having and will have on mental health. While there is little definitive data available on how suicide rates have been affected during the pandemic, there have been studies showing elevated levels of teens and adults experiencing anxiety and depression throughout the pandemic.

Unique stresses of the pandemic

Mental health experts worry about factors like social isolation, job loss, disrupted routines, anxiety about the virus and other stresses the pandemic has created or worsened.

Dr. Erica Larson, a psychiatrist specializing in child psychiatry at Marshfield Clinic Health System, said she has personally seen an uptick in the demand for mental health services in her own practice during the pandemic. Larson noted that calls to crisis lines have also increased nationwide.

In fact, an article in USA Today reported that the National Alliance on Mental Illness saw a 65 percent increase in calls to its help line from the beginning of March through the end of April in 2020. The same article said, “The Disaster Distress Helpline, a sub-network of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that offers emotional support to people in need after natural and human-caused disasters, saw an 890% spike in call volume in April (2020) compared with April 2019.”

Dr. Larson said the loss of milestones, particularly for young people, can contribute to mental stress and sadness. Many seniors were not able to have what we consider a normal high school graduation this year. Events from proms, to school sports to band practices have been cancelled or curtailed across the country. Virtual learning is a new experience for teachers and students, which may also create stress.

The distress teens feel may manifest itself as anger, sadness, irritability, loss of interest in normal activities and disrupted sleep. With limited ability to socialize and participate in their normal routines, teens may spend increased time on social media, which can negatively impact mood and self-esteem. Larson said it’s important for parents to monitor how much time teens are spending on social media and monitor the content teens are consuming.

Set the example

Larson said it is important for parents and adult figures in a teen’s life to watch the example they are setting with their own behavior.

“Children and adolescents take emotional cues from their environment,” Larson said. “When parents are stressed or struggling, that often transfers to their children and impacts their mental health and well-being.”

Larson urges parents and guardians to make sure they are taking time to care for themselves and address their own needs so that they can be healthy and able to support their children in a positive manner. In terms of speaking with your kids about how they are feeling mentally, Larson said parents should be “calm, compassionate and open to what your children tell you.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide there is help available. The National Suicide Prevention Line is available 24 hours a day and can be reached at 800-273-8255.  If you have general concerns about your mental health or the mental health of your child, you can make an appointment to be seen.

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