The Teen Mental Health Landscape Post-Covid

March 2 is known as World Teen Mental Wellness Day and is observed across the globe every year. This day of observance aims to raise greater awareness about teenagers’ mental health issues by educating the public and destigmatizing mental health issues that are becoming increasingly common. The most common mental illnesses in teens are generalized anxiety disorder, social phobias, and depression. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that half of all mental health issues start before a child reaches the age of 14. Unfortunately, most cases are not diagnosed or treated at this time.

Rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide are rising drastically in recent years since the pandemic began. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the behavioral and mental health crisis among teens. The pandemic disrupted routines and caused major social isolation, two factors which can lead to anxiety and depression, sometimes having lasting effects on mental health later in life. Previous to the pandemic, the most common causes for teenage stress were usually related to expectations regarding academic achievements and test scores as well as social pressure to succeed from teachers, parents, and family in order to pursue higher education. Another common stressor are the social pressures related to complicated social relationships with friends, romantic partners, or bullies. 

Social Isolation: The Silent Pandemic

The isolation that occurred during the pandemic exacerbated teens’ mental health symptoms to an extent that is still being researched or discussed. Due to the two-year disruption in traditional education, many children and teens developed educational, social, emotional, and behavioral gaps during the lockdown. They lost the skills to overcome everyday problems due to social isolation. Disruptions to in-person schooling, after-school recreational activities and other methods of socialization also meant that teens lost much of their extra-familial support system for coping, emotional regulation, and blowing off steam. Teens who entered lockdown with pre-existing mental health struggles felt an even greater impact by the loss of interpersonal support systems. The inability to be seen and heard by their peers is central to identity development, self-confidence, and healing.

Teens that were living in urban settings in populous states such as California or New York were used to having access to a wide range of in-person activities and social events in their bustling cities. Teens living in these settings at the time of lockdown found that their social freedom was profoundly interrupted during the lockdown. While populous cities usually offer more pedestrian resources than rural towns, the opposite was true as urban families were confined to their homes in close-quartered neighborhoods. Due to the density of the population at risk, city-dwellers were not able to get outside for fresh air and exercise quite as easily as those that live in more suburban or rural areas. This created a stark contrast from what was considered ‘normal’ life. Individuals cooped up in once-bustling cities discovered that they had even less ability to find a sense of calm amongst the chaos.

Even though the world has returned to a sense of apparent normalcy, the importance of mental health issues hasn’t gone away. With teen mental health issues still on rise, adults can help by opening the lines of communication with their child and trusted professionals.

If Your Teen is Struggling

Recognizing that your teen is struggling, here are some ways to help them feel seen and heard: 

  • Offer support without judgment whenever possible.
  • Listen more than you talk: avoid lecturing or condescension. 
  • Validate your teen’s identity: a loving and supportive home life can make or break a child’s mental health
  • Explore supportive resources: talk to a doctor or a mental health professional. 
  • Be a role model: Eating well, exercising regularly, and prioritizing positive social relationships all have an effect on your mental health. Talking about your feelings and mental health in an appropriate way invites your teen to do the same.
  • Adapt a proactive approach: mental health struggles don’t simply ‘pass’.

If you or your child is struggling to maintain stability and mental wellness, seeking help from a mental health professional is a good first step. In the case more more intensive support is needed, consider an intentionally built, accredited, residential treatment center that provides 24/7 therapeutic care and supervision.

Elevations is an all-gender residential treatment center providing youth ages 13-17 with personalized, interdisciplinary care. Our staff and programming provide psychiatric care, specialized and intensive clinical groups, accredited academics, and experiential therapy to students with trauma, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, suicidality, and self-harm. Most of the families we serve come from states such as California and New York, places particularly impacted by the long-standing effects of the more than two-year period of isolation and ongoing routine disruption. 

Our private campus is fully accredited with the California Department of Education, the Utah Department of Education, and the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools. Transferable credits and individualized academic programming allow students who are not getting enough support in online schooling or larger-sized classrooms the support they need to find academic success

Families that choose Elevations to re-establish a sense of wellbeing for their teen are able to work side-by-side with their child through our comprehensive family support programming. We understand the importance of healthy relationships, so provide opportunities for family visits, weekly family therapy via Skype, seminars, workshops, and support groups to create connections with other parents in our program. We encourage parents to reach out and learn more about our program. 

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