According to a September 2020 American Medical Association study, the number of individuals suffering from depression has nearly tripled since the coronaviral pandemic started. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has been a persistent crisis for nearly a year, and nobody truly knows when the world will return to some semblance of normalcy. In times of stress, our brains go into overdrive, as this organ attempts to resolve problematic situations draining our minds and bodies of the energy needed to be happy.
Teenagers have been particularly affected by the pandemic. In addition to the chronic stress created by unknown virus factors, adolescents are also being deprived of important developmental activities, including socializing in the school hallway, participating in extracurricular activities and engaging in normal teenage routines.
Determining if your teen is merely sad, versus depressed, can be a challenge during these trying times. Adolescents are reactive, and they can have moments of happiness even when they experience a persistent negative mood.
With distressed feelings so prevalent in our current world, it is more important than ever for parents to be alert to symptoms of clinical depression. Emotional signs can include withdrawing from relationships, a loss of interest in a preferred activity, and negative self-talk often including suicidal comments. Physical signs, such as sleep difficulties, fluctuating weight and concentration challenges are also notable markers of a mental health concern.
Parents are sometimes reluctant to talk to their teens about personal worries, as they fear the situation could go poorly. Although that is possible, your child is likely to be open to a caring conversation. Most importantly, choose a period of calm, and avoid serious discussions during an argument or a “fun task.” Be sure to present logical and concrete examples of the concerning behaviors. Finally, let your child know that the door is open to further discussion and that you will check back at a specific future time.
The teenage years are full of angst. If your gut tells you that your son or daughter has a serious mental health issue, seek help. Ask your pediatrician or school counselor for a referral to a mental health professional.
Unfortunately, sometimes talk therapy and medication are not enough. I often work with treatment-resistant teens and assist families in finding appropriate residential treatment and wilderness therapy programs. While this approach can seem drastic, it is also proven to be lifesaving.
My heart goes out to all families that have experienced a tragic event over the past year. The overwhelming stress of COVID-19 has taught me to appreciate my family more than ever. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. And if you are worried about your teen and suicide, seek help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741. Be alert, spend time with your loved ones and practice patience and self-care. Stay safe, everyone!
Prior to going into private practice as a psychotherapist and learning-disabilities specialist, Russell Hyken, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., LPC, NCC, worked for more than 15 years as an English teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Visit him online at ed-psy.com.