Deteriorating mental health amongst teenagers. The pandemic within the pandemic.
There is strong evidence that depression and anxiety is on the rise particularly amongst teens and young adults. As reported in the New York Post, FAIR Health looked at 32 billion records of privately billed health insurance claims in the US and studied those in the 13-18 and 19-22 age ranges. The organization tracked month-by-month changes from January to November 2020, compared to the same period from the year before.
In the 13-18 age group, in April 2020, major depressive disorder claim lines increased 83.9 percent and generalized anxiety disorder claim lines rose 93.6 percent.
Claims for overdoses specifically in that age group jumped to 94.91 percent of all medical claims in March 2020 and 119.31 percent in April 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier. The study also showed a major increase in intentional self-harm claims among young people.
In summary during March and April 2020, total mental health claims for youngsters ages 13 to 18, as a percentage of all medical claim lines, approximately doubled compared to the two months in 2019, according to the study.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on mental health, particularly on that of young people,” FAIR Health president Robin Gelburd said in a statement.
This issue is compounded by the fact that teenagers are adept at hiding or masking their emotions. They don’t disclose what they are feeling. Worryingly research from UK based STEER Education, who track the mental health of pupils, show that the pandemic has accelerated this phenomenon. Before the pandemic six out of ten Grade 7-12 girls were low disclosing. That number has now risen to eight out of ten, and low disclosing boys have also increased over 20%.
These are extraordinary numbers. They reflect that young people have responded to the pandemic by becoming more self-contained and autonomous. Their relationships and social interactions have been severely curtailed. As a result, the ways they have to share and externalise their feelings and thoughts have drastically declined. At the same time, parents and teachers have been preoccupied and much less available. The result is a generation turning inwards.
“…young people have responded to the pandemic by becoming more self-contained and autonomous.”Tweet
Psychologist and author Megan de Beyer believes that things are no different in South Africa. In the remainder of this post, she talks through how you can help your teen.
There are many reasons teens may get depression. Further complications are happening now from the effects of Covid-19 restrictions: isolation, loss of important celebrations and milestones, the impossibility of meeting goals worked towards for many years or the family’s financial situation.
If you think your son or daughter is suffering from depression here is a small test. Have a look at the symptoms of depression listed below. Are you are noticing many of these symptoms more than 50% of the time that you are with your teen? Is there a valid reason for this behaviour? Are you noticing it almost every day (for more than a month)?
● Evidence of pessimistic, depressing thought patterns
● Physical symptoms of anxiety
● Obsessive thinking about people or events
● PTSD with stress reactions
● Feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness
● Withdrawal from friends & activities previously enjoyed
● Increased irritability or agitation
● Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
● Low energy and motivation
If you answer ‘Yes’ to more than one symptom, here’s what you need to know:
- You are responsible – If you think your teen is suffering, it is your responsibility to get help. Do not assume that your child is ‘grown-up enough’ to make their own decisions regarding this matter. Even if your teenager resists your help, do not be intimidated.
- Don’t ask permission – If you are concerned about the psychology of your child do not ask them if they want to talk to someone. Take him or her to talk to a counsellor or psychologist. Let the professional worry about the teen’s resistance. After all, that’s their job!
- Purpose is key – Healthy teenagers express their aliveness through vital action, meaningful connections, and practicing talents or skills. It is even healthy for them to explore, push boundaries, and make mistakes. You can help them to find purpose in their lives.
Despite the relatively gloomy nature of this post all is not lost. There is lots you can do to ameliorate the effects of this emotional pandemic. Teenagers need an adult who loves and believes in them, listens with deep presence, sets appropriate boundaries, and leads by example. You can be that adult.
If you want to explore this issue further have a look at these essential tools from Megan to help your teen through turbulent emotions.
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