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Mental Health Awareness: COVID and Its Impact on Teens

It’s hard to believe it’s been just over a year since the first COVID-19 cases were discovered in the United States. It’s easy to feel like you’re stuck in some sort of time loop, as school districts are still grappling with reopening procedures, and extracurricular activities for teenagers are either shut down or operating under very different procedures than they did pre-pandemic.

The National 4-H Council was one of the first organizations to study the unique impacts that the crisis is having on teenagers, releasing its results last May. At that point, 64% of teens believed that the impacts of COVID would affect their generation’s mental health permanently, while 70% reported current mental health struggles such anxiety or depression. There are no signs of teen mental health improving since then, with the uncertainly of the pandemic still ongoing.

Fortunately, there are things parents and other adults can do to help support teens through this time. Here’s what you should know.

Loss of Social Support

Teens are hardwired to be extremely social, and losing contact with peers can feel devastating. According to the 4-H study, more teens were anxious or depressed about their inability to hang out with their friends than anything else. The teen years traditionally bring a lot of special events, from a first date and prom, to homecoming and high school graduation. Depending on how old your teen is and what restrictions your state has implemented, they may be grieving the loss of several anticipated events over the past year.

Fortunately, today’s teens are digital natives. They know how to maximize their online connections. While it’s not the same as being there in person, encourage your teen to organize movie watch parties, virtual game nights, and other online social events. Even Facetiming friends may be enough to help lift a teen’s spirits.

Psychological Development

Teens are in a unique phase of psychological development that can impact how they process the pandemic. They are far more likely than younger children to be able to grasp the magnitude of COVID, including its potential dangers. But unlike adults, they don’t yet have a broad range of experiences from which to draw, and their brains are still developing. Most teens are less efficient at processing all the conflicting data coming from various sources, which can lead to stress and worry.

Parents and loved ones can help with these stressors by keeping the lines of communication open. Help your teens understand which news sources are the most reliable, and how to filter out less credible information. Encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns that arise.

Now more than ever, it’s important to help your teen express their feelings. This can be done through journaling or it could be done with daily check‑ins. By allowing teens to talk about their experiences during the pandemic, and by verbalizing some of their thoughts and fears, parents can really help their children cope with some of the stressors they are internalizing.

Falling Behind

Many teens are worried about falling behind, whether in school or in extracurricular activities. While these are legitimate concerns, it’s important to keep them in perspective. Remind your teen that this is a global pandemic, and everyone else their age is also going through the same things. This can help teens feel less alone, while also reassuring them that nobody is secretly “getting ahead”.

Physical activity is important for growing bodies and minds. Studies have shown engaging in sports activity with friends has both physical and psychological health benefits for children and adolescents. Encourage your teen to continue practicing their sport when it is safe and feasible. In the states where sports programs are opening again, review the American Academy of Pediatrics policy which offers guidelines for return to play.

Vaccinations

Ultimately, vaccinations will lead us out of the pandemic. Two vaccines are currently available in the United States and a third is expected to be approved soon. As of March 2021, the Moderna vaccine is only approved for adults 18 years of age and older, however, studies are being conducted with the vaccine in children between the ages of 12 to 17. Pfizer’s vaccine is approved for those ages 16 and up, but has a fully enrolled trial for children ages 12 to 15. Both sets of results are expected later this year.

Talking about the vaccines and keeping up with news of the clinical trials can help give teens some hope. It gives them something concrete to look forward to, and can contribute to a general sense that the pandemic really won’t last forever. While the research is still preliminary, the possibility of having a vaccine for teens is encouraging.

Seeking Mental Health Treatment

Some stress is entirely normal during this global pandemic. But if your teen is showing symptoms of anxiety or depression that they can’t seem to shake, it’s well worth a virtual check-in with a mental health provider. If physical offices aren’t open, search for “virtual mental health” or “teletherapy for teens” in your area, and help them set up an appointment. With rates of mental health disorders on the rise, there’s no reason not to seek professional advice.

Resources for Teens

Compared to older adults, teens are less likely to suffer severe physical illness from COVID-19. But with so much going on in the average teen’s life, and a built-in need to socialize, many teens are acutely feeling the effects of long-term lockdowns and changes to their routine. In this time when most things are highly unpredictable, a routine becomes even more important, especially as it pertains to sleep. It’s important for parents to closely monitor their teenagers during this time and help them navigate the new normal. There is no doubt that there will be a long term impact on teenage mental health, as a result of the pandemic.

For more information about how to help your teen deal with the physical and mental health impacts from the pandemic, please visit the CDCs website. Also checkout this resource page for ways you can help your teen cope with the stressors COVID may be having on their mental health.

Interested in more thought leadership and Behavioral Health Articles from NextStep Solutions? Click here.
Darice Warren
dwarren@nssbehavioralhealth.com


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