To protect ourselves from COVID-19, health professionals tell us to stay at home and away from other people. This is especially difficult for teenagers as their phase of life is all about peers and independence from their family.
It is therefore not surprising that the pandemic has severely affected the mental health of teenagers.
More difficult for some teenagers, easier for others
It wasn’t difficult for everyone. Some of my teenage patients who are stressed from social situations feel relieved, for example, at home, and teenagers who get along with their parents and siblings enjoy being with them more. And it certainly helps that many get more sleep. But social isolation and attachment to home can be very difficult in this age group. For families suffering from financial and other stressors, teenagers often share this burden, making the situation worse.
It is important for parents to be proactive – not just being aware of their teen’s mood, but also to strengthen their teen’s mental health. Not only is it likely that the pandemic will be with us for at least a few more months, but there is also no guarantee that the anxiety and depression that occur during the pandemic will go away when they occur. The effects could be long-lasting.
Look for signs
- Whimsy that is unusual
- isolate more than usual. This can be difficult for parents to see as teenagers tend to naturally self-isolate. But if it is really difficult to get them out of their room, or if they interact less with friends, this could be a sign of a problem.
- losing interest in activities they used to enjoy that are possible during the pandemic
- Sleep disorders – sleep either a lot less or a lot more
- Problems with focus or concentration
- Dropping notes
- Increase in risky behaviors (which can range from drug use to socializing in unmasked groups)
- think of death or suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask your teen about it right away if they drop a clue. When you get an answer that makes you think that they are actually thinking about Call your doctor right away. If you cannot reach your doctor, take your teen to your local emergency room. If your teen doesn’t leave, call 911.
What Parents Should Do to Help
- Don’t ignore any of these symptoms! Mental health is just as important as physical health. Call your doctor. Advice and sometimes medication can make all the difference.
- A “new normal” requires new routines and new ways of being connected and happy. Now that it is perfectly clear that our new normal is not temporary, talk to your teen about what safety they can do to take care of their sanity.
- Make sure your teen doesn’t stay in their room all day. With quarantines and distance learning, this is all too possible. Get her out of her room – and out of the house – whenever possible. Eat with family, hang out in the evenings, and otherwise establish routines that counteract isolation (and give you a chance to keep an eye on your teen).
- Make your teen active. Exercise can make a huge difference in many ways, including improving mood and relieving anxiety and depression. Even a walk around the block is something (if you have a dog, give your teen some dog walking chores).
- Make use of all the resources available in your school or community. There may be online or socially distant clubs or other activities that your teen might enjoy.
For more information and suggestions, see these Teenage Social, Emotional, and Mental Wellbeing resources at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
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