As parents, the pandemic has come with challenges. Adjusting to working from home or not working at all, balanced with managing children and school schedules, has been a strain. Then comes the pandemic-related statistics – infections, infection rates, hospitalizations, deaths, social restrictions, and vaccines - all given “with an abundance of caution” that often just evoked anxiety. Many of us parents have done our best to manage our own anxiety and protect our children from the volume and ever-changing information over the last 18 months. Now, with light at the end of the tunnel, many still notice the dramatic toll on our children. Teens in particular have paid a steep pandemic price.
Our youth today are not okay, and the research backs it up. A survey of over 500 high schoolers, conducted by a Pearland teen, found that nearly 20% of students have “thoughts about suicide or self-harm” often or always. Hospitalizations for teenage suicide attempts have sharply increased in Texas during the pandemic. The root of this sharp rise in severe mental health problems is likely pandemic-related anxiety, isolation, and loss of social structures. And there has been overwhelming loss. Teenagers have lost family members to COVID-19 or know someone that has passed. They observe adults behaving badly, politicians furthering their own interests, and school officials at a loss of how to handle things. Often teens and young adults feel helpless that there is little they can do to create change. This can leave adolescents feeling alone, forgotten, and wondering about their path moving forward.
Adolescents are less adept at dealing with and processing these hard times and are nearly three times more likely to report a major depressive episode than adults. Adolescents have missed precious education time with the external structure that comes with teachers, passing bells, and peers. For some, the open-ended structure of online learning has been a struggle. Adults have difficulty remaining engaged over Zoom, now introduce a brain that is not quite equipped for extended periods of prolonged attention and the outcomes can be dismal. Students often withdraw, get distracted, and let their grades slip.
Adolescents have missed socialization, which as many have seen, has a significant positive or negative impact on mood and self-esteem. Human brains are wired for social interaction – in person, talking to someone, reading verbal and nonverbal cues. Social media sites were already changing those interactions by allowing people the freedom to say things online they would likely not say in person. However, the pandemic forever altered how we view and use social media sites. Coupled with the pressure of returning to in person learning after a year of muted microphones and cameras that turn off, we have a perfect recipe for teen anxiety.
There is something to be said for training growing humans to function in adult settings as well. We see some of that training in the cornerstone events of middle school and high school. Many of those milestone events were altered or reimagined – prom, graduation, athletics, band, academic groups. Further, those in high school with hopes of attending college and were enrolled in rigorous AP classes saw a massive change in format of the classes and application process for college. The return to school has also caused increased anxiety for many children due to limited socialization during the past year or fear of becoming ill.
Identifying early warning signs of isolation and anxiety can make a big difference in the overall outcomes for the student. With suicide attempts spiking in Texas among teens, getting youth connected with mental health services before crisis hits is key. Speaking to a mental health professional does not mean your child is “flawed” or that you have failed as a parent! Allowing your child a safe space to talk about fears, adjust to a new normal, and move through the pandemic with someone trained in how that developing brain works can be a great idea.
Parents and adolescents seeking mental health treatment are experiencing a common barrier. Many providers are overwhelmed by the demand for services during the pandemic and are not taking new clients. Others are not equipped to speak to adolescents. This makes an already frustrating experience even more troubling as those asking for help are being told to wait or keep looking. Joon Care has immediate openings for teens and young adults to get the mental health support they need. To learn more, visit our resources page for information on teen mental health, grief, and depression.