Helping your teen’s mental health during COVID-19
COVID-19 is causing a significant disruption for many teenagers – no time with friends, no celebrations, no extracurricular activities – and this disruption can have a major impact on their mental health.
“Mental health is not a new issue for our youth. Before COVID-19, 81% of teens saw mental health struggles as a concern for them, but the current crisis has increased the issue,” said Ellison Kirby, LMSW, program therapist at Adolescent Recovery Center.
Why are teens so stressed right now?
Kirby said teenagers are greatly impacted by social distancing practices. They build their emotional skills and sense of identity through social connections with their peers, but now they’re limited to forming these connections virtually.
He shared these reasons why teens may find themselves under stress due to COVID-19.
- Uncertainty about the future. There is so much uncertainty in their lives around school, friends and extracurricular activities.
- More time at home. Teens are now being forced to spend more time at home with their families.
- Concerns about the world. Teens are concerned about the state of the world and the health of the people in it, including those they are close to.
- Fear over necessities. Teens are finding themselves worried about the availability of necessities – food, housing, family finances, basic household products – as these items have become concerns for most families with the limit of supplies and the changing economy.
- Quarantine. Being in quarantine has restricted their ability to spend time with friends and family in person.
- Lack of normalcy. Teens are having to cope with the loss of a sense of normalcy and routine, including the inability to go to work or participate in extracurricular activities.
- Missing out. Teens are grieving the loss of or the possibility of not fully experiencing big milestones, such as graduations and birthday celebrations.
How are teens coping?
Typically, teens would cope with stress by spending time with friends, doing something creative, or participating in sports or hobbies. But now, most teens are coping with their COVID-19 stress by:
- Pretending to feel better so they do not worry anyone.
- Dealing with their feelings on their own.
- Trying to ignore their feelings.
- Spending more time alone.
“The stress they are experiencing, coupled with the inability to cope in ways they normally would, fuels concerns that the mental health issues they are facing may become more severe if not addressed,” said Kirby. This could include severe depression, addiction or suicide.
How can you tell if your teen’s mental health is being impacted?
Kirby said parents should look for these signs:
- Have they increased their time spent on screens?
- Do they stay in their room and feel like a stranger?
- Are they sleeping too much or struggling with falling asleep?
- How often does their appearance and hygiene appear neglected?
- When minor things happen, do they now respond with frustration or anger?
How can you help your teen if they are stressed?
Kirby said there are four things parents can do to help.
- Frequently ask them how they are doing.
- Discuss what is going on in the world openly with them and address their concerns.
- Reassure them and help them understand that their feelings are valid.
- If they need it, get them professional help.
“Teens are asking for environments where they can talk honestly about how they’re feeling and build healthy coping mechanisms. If they are feeling impaired in their daily functions, it is important to seek help from a professional,” said Kirby.
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