2020 is over and it has been challenging for most of us. But we also need to shed light on the silent sufferers: our youth, especially our teens.
Not too long ago, I was approached by a parent whose child’s friend spoke about committing suicide and wished they had never been born. The child is only eight years old.
Our teens’ routines and lives have been disrupted in many ways:
- Social isolation from friends, family, acquaintances, and worship communities
- Learning to navigate schoolwork at home, and cope with “Zoom fatigue”
- Fewer physical exercise options
- Having to shift extracurricular activities to a remote format
- Missing significant life events, like homecoming, birthdays, and graduations
- The closure of “third spaces,” like cafes and restaurants, to sit down with friends and have a good time
These challenges are magnified when we look at how mental health has changed over the past decade. According to Pew Research, between 2007 and 2017:
- Depressive episodes have increased in U.S. teens from 8% to 13%.
- The total number of teenagers who recently experienced depression increased 59%. The rate of growth was faster for teen girls (66%) than for boys (44%).
- And today, 7 out of 10 teens said anxiety and depression is a major problem among people their age in the community where they live
And in some ways, teens’ mental health outcomes vary by gender:
- 36% of girls and 23% of boys say they often feel tense or nervous about their day, either every day or almost every day
- American teen girls are 3 times as likely as boys to experience depression
- 1 in 5 teenage girls had experienced at least one major depressive episode over the past year (by comparison, 1 in 14 teenage boys had experienced the same)
- While teenage girls are more likely to have faced depression than their male peers, they are also more likely to have received treatment by seeing a professional or taking medication: Among teen girls who had recent depressive episodes, 45% received treatment for depression over the past year. By comparison, 33% of teen boys with recent depressive episodes received treatment.
COVID-19 has been an especially trying time for our teens. The National 4-H Council released survey findings with concerning results:
- 81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S., and 64% of teens believe that the experience of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health.
- In this stressful climate, 7 in 10 teens have experienced struggles with mental health.
- 55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress, and 43% depression.
- 61% of teens said that COVID-19 pandemic has increased their feeling of loneliness.
- Teens today report spending 75% of their waking hours on screens during COVID-19.
- 82% of teens calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country.
- 79% of teens surveyed wish there was an inclusive environment or safe space for people in school to talk about mental health.
How to Help Your Struggling Teen
So, what can you do as a parent?
First and foremost, communicate! With the upcoming New Year and the end of COVID-19 in view, here are a few initiatives that you can start with your teen:
- Have a discussion about self-confidence. Every teen suffers from a lack of self-confidence and this is an epidemic across our country.
- Talk about short- and long-range goals. Helping your teen develop a life vision will give them a super highway towards success.
- Help them find ways to safely socialize with their friends. If you do decide to have an in-person gathering, follow COVID-19 safety guidelines by using a large outdoor space with outdoor heaters, and keep the group small.
- Open your mind to their ideas. Remember, they are just like you were at that age, but now isolated in every way.
- Find out what is discouraging them. Work on building solutions together.
- Remember that they are unique individuals. Every teen has their own unique personality, likes and dislikes, but they still need your attention and to feel loved by you.
- Help them visualize their life after COVID. The pandemic has created a mix of fear, despair, grief, and confusion. Remind them that human societies have always found ways to recover and thrive after pandemics, revolutions, and world wars.
- Sit down for dinner together. Family meals provide an opportunity for open communication, learning by example, and building self-esteem. Turn off those cell phones and start talking face-to-face.
Remember that the teen years are a stressful time. They’re filled with major hormonal, physical, and mental changes.
When combined with other events, like divorce, moving to a new place, or school problems, these problems may seem too overwhelming to overcome. And for some, suicide may seem like a solution.
It’s our job as parents to help them work through the stress, confusion, fear, and doubt that can affect your teen’s problem-solving and decision-making processes.
Good luck and stay well!
Senior Executive Director
If you notice any warning signs, call your teen’s healthcare provider right away. If you need immediate help, call 2-1-1.