Teenagers are among the highest demographic group to experience mental health disorders. Surveys have shown that at least one in five – or 20% – of all teens suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition.
During this current time of COVID-19, teen mental health stability may be even more hard to come by. The best defenses against teen stress and mental illness are arming yourself with information, making adjustments where you can, and seeking help when you don’t know what to do.
Social Isolation Triggers of Teen Stress During COVID-19
While mental health concerns are always looming, the current pandemic has supplied some extra fuel for that potential fire. Personality factors, home life, disruptions to routine, and personal losses as a result of COVID-19 influence can all play a role in triggering unhealthy psychological responses to teen stress.
- Personality and behavior: The effects that social distancing orders have on an individual are likely to vary with the person’s personality bend. Teens who are more introverted tend to have an easier time with a lack of socialization opportunities, while extroverted teens may feel trapped, depressed, and anxious without their typical outlets being available. If you are curious about whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you can get an idea by taking a free personality test.
- Social isolation and connection: Human beings are creatures of habit. We find comfort in knowing what we are going to be doing from day to day. With all of the daily changes surrounding COVID-19, our routines have been disrupted multiple times, and the end of these changes is nowhere in sight. There is constant talk of more restrictions, less restrictions, getting back to work and school, and staying in place.
- Life events and milestones: There are certain events that many teenagers anticipate as hallmarks of their high school years. There are proms and formals, shows to perform, and the capstone event of walking across the stage at graduation. This pandemic has disrupted all of those plans. In addition to having to establish new routines, teens may also be having to cope with disappointment surrounding the loss of important milestones.
- Family functioning and resilience: The shelter-in-place orders have many of us spending more time with our immediate family. If the family is already on friendly terms, this can be a great opportunity to reconnect and spend some quality time together. If the family is not so prone to get along, being cooped up with each other for this amount of time can feel like a prison sentence. Patience for each other can grow short, and arguments can become more frequent.
Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Adolescent Emotional Distress
A sudden change in routines and habits can be stressful on everyone. We can expect to feel even more stress as everything slowly shifts into the “new normal” that we will eventually be living in. The following are some common signs that all of these changes are taking a toll on your mental health.
Anxiety involves worry and fear about the future. Teens already have a lot on their plate when it comes to dealing with future unknowns, and the pandemic isn’t helping. Plans for the next school year are still up in the air, families are worried about finances, and career options after graduation may have been altered. While feeling some measure of anxiety over all of this can be considered normal, levels of anxiety which keep you from completing basic tasks or enjoying simple pleasures are cause for concern.
Some feelings of sadness and loss are normal during this time of adjustment. Clinical depression occurs when those feelings don’t go away, and when they begin to rob you of the ability to find pleasure in anything. People who are depressed may not want to think about the future, and will lose interest in activities that were once enjoyed. In extreme cases, a depressed person may even think about ending it all through suicide.
Teen Substance Use and Abuse
There are a few factors which tend to contribute to the development of a substance abuse disorder. Existing mental health issues is one. Boredom is another. The conditions created by the social distancing orders can include an increase in both of these areas. If you throw in a chaotic home life, the temptation to escape through drugs or alcohol can be even more intense. As most former addicts can tell you, giving in to this temptation is never worth it.
Preventing and Preparing for a Teen Mental Health Crisis
While teen stress responses to our current circumstances can be extreme, there are healthy ways that we can take that edge off. Being proactive about your mental health can put you back in control of where your life is heading. The following are a few ways to take charge of the situation.
- Create healthy and productive routines: During a time when the world has lost its daily routine, it is very important that you take charge in creating your own. In addition to setting up some daily rituals toward completing your school or chore tasks, make sure to include some habits which bring you a sense of peace or comfort. Popular self-care routines include spending a few minutes a day in meditation, treating yourself to a long bath or shower, or setting a daily time to connect with friends.
- Embrace technology: Young people are often chastised for how much they rely on the internet and social media. For once, they are being encouraged to use more of it. Use your technological expertise to create unique ways to connect with friends over virtual platforms, and share your knowledge with family members who may not have wanted to dive into the tech world before the pandemic. This might even be a great time to finally start up your own blog or channel.
- Ask for help when/if/as needed: One of the most important skills in navigating life is knowing when we need to ask for help. In addition to an increase in services for many local agencies, there is also increased promotion of national mental health support services. Methods of receiving this type of support include phone calls, video chats, and texting. These types of services can be used while in crisis, and beforehand.