Supporting Teen Mental Health in Pandemic Times

Warning Signs and Advice

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a serious impact on mental health in the U.S. and around the world. Thanks to stay-at-home orders, drastic changes in routines and widespread trauma, mental well-being has stayed atop the list of prominent health issues.

The teenage years are marked by physical, emotional and mental changes. But for teens today, the pandemic has added an extra challenge to their emotional and mental well-being.

Effects of the Pandemic

While dealing with the standard social, mental and physical changes of adolescence, teens have also had to overcome new obstacles due to the pandemic. They have had to adapt to remote and hybrid learning, changes in their family’s schedule, a shift in socialization norms and more.

Deepa R. Nadimpalli, MD, an adolescent psychiatrist at Northwestern Medicine, says the implications of these effects may be much more serious than they seem.

“With the stress of the pandemic comes a lot of fear, anger, sadness and worry,” she explains. “These things, if not addressed, can lead to more serious problems with anxiety, panic, depression and hopelessness.”

Even as restrictions start to lift, Dr. Nadimpalli says young people face the challenge of re-socializing into their communities. For children with existing social anxiety, this hurdle could be bigger than ever before.

Warning Signs of Mental Illness

Knowing the warning signs of emotional distress and mental illness can help you take care of your teen. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Changes in school performance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite fluctuations
  • Social and emotional withdrawal

Keep in mind that this list is not comprehensive. If your teen has these signs or other worrisome symptoms, such as posing a danger to themselves or anyone else, it is crucial that they get help right away. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Ways to Support Teens

Providing support to teens is key to helping their mental health. Let them know, Dr. Nadimpalli explains, that with the proper treatment, they can live the life they want and do the things they want to do. Here are some ways to help:

  • Have open conversations. “Being honest with teens is hugely important,” Dr. Nadimpalli says. “We need to validate teens’ feelings and help them keep in touch with their support systems.” So, sit down and start to talk about mental illness with your teen. Letting them know that they are not alone can help bring context to their situation.
  • Be consistent and vocal. Voice or video support is often better than texting, Dr. Nadimpalli advises. If you notice that your teen is struggling, help them keep in touch with their support systems. Check in with them regularly to see how they are feeling.
  • Highlight physical health. Encourage your teen to stay active. Keeping physically healthy, including getting regular exercise, can also help mental health.
  • Offer resources. Share helpful and credible resources with your teen. Direct them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and educational courses with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Seek professional help. If your teen continues to struggle with mental health, seek out a certified professional to help navigate treatment. Your teen’s primary care provider can often recommend what type of care is best for them.

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