As studies and research continue to demonstrate the impact of COVID-19 on mental health, growing statistics show specifically how the pandemic has negatively affected young people.
According to one study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40.9% of all participants reported at least one mental or behavioral health condition symptom related to anxiety or depressive disorder. Study participants between the ages of 18 and 24, reported a higher incidence of these symptoms, in addition to COVID-19-related trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) symptoms and serious suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts).
Another CDC study revealed an alarming rise in mental health-related emergency department visits among young people between January 1st and October 17th of 2020. Compared to the same time period in 2019, ED visits of children ages 5 through 11 and 12 through 17, rose an estimated 24% and 31% (respectively).
A third study, focussed on ED visits in 2020, showed higher rates, across the board, related to mental health conditions, suicide attempts, and drug and opioid overdoses (compared to the same timeframe in 2019).
These findings—and others—clearly reinforce the breadth of mental health problems resulting from the pandemic for young people. But, what is less clear, is the lasting impact COVID-19 will have on today’s youth. In response to the current problem (and potential future), parents, caregivers, educators, and healthcare professionals look to how they can help support teens and young adults.
At Futures of Recovery Healthcare, we provide comprehensive, personalized treatment for young adults ages 18 and up. We have a team of compassionate, licensed care providers—doctors, psychotherapists, case managers, wellness professionals, and nurses—who specialize in helping young people with mental illness reduce and manage their symptoms—including those related specifically to COVID-19.
Our ultimate goal is to help relieve anxiety symptoms in a safe, effective, and healthy way, so that your family member can live a happy, fulfilling life moving forward.
How and Why Young People are Impacted by COVID-19
One concern in rising mental health problems among the youth during COVID-19 has to do with how and when mental disorders develop. According to the CDC, mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders affect one in six children between the ages of two and eight. Additionally, depression and anxiety are conditions that are more common among older children.
For young people who have—or are more susceptible to developing—a mental illness, the challenges that come with the pandemic can be that much harder to navigate.
What research and studies have confirmed is that many children have and continue to be adversely affected by:
- Disruption to daily routines due to school and public-space closings
- Interruption to structure and routine resulting from a parent’s shift in employment (working from home, being laid off, or losing a job)
- Isolation, from school closings, social-distancing requirements, and the closure of recreational- and entertainment-based activities
- Concern and fear about getting the coronavirus
- Worry over someone they care for getting sick
In September 2019, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published the responses of 8,444 adolescents and young people ranging in age from 13 to 29, to express how the pandemic affected them, and here is what they found:
- 27% of the survey participants admitted feeling anxiety during the previous seven days, and 15% felt depressed
- 46% of young people said they felt less motivated to do activities they normally enjoyed
- 73% of respondents said they felt concerned enough about their physical and mental wellbeing to reach out for help (although 40% confessed to not actually asking for help)
As an added concern, yet more evidence revealed that children as young as nine-years-old confessed to having suicidal thoughts, while one in ten admitted to intentionally cutting, pinching, or burning themselves.
Signs of Mental Health Issues in Youth
Although children experience stress, anxiety, and mental health issues differently, there are common signs that parents and caregivers can watch for, which include:
- Significant and prolonged worry, sadness, anxiety
- Noticeable changes in eating behaviors (over or under eating)
- Observable instances of “acting out,” irritability, and behavior problems
- Perceptible alterations in sleeping patterns (too much or not enough sleep)
- Recognizable use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
- Unexplainable headaches, body aches, and other physical symptoms
- Excessive tendency to isolate and pull away from loved ones and friends
- Problematic concentration and ability to focus
If your child demonstrates any of the following signs, it is crucial to seek the help of a mental health professional immediately, as these can indicate teen suicide ideation:
- Talking about “wanting to die,” “kill themself,” or “disappear”
- Isolating from loved ones and friends
- Exhibiting extreme mood swings or changes in behavior
- Increasing alcohol or drug use
- Engaging in dangerous, risky behaviors (driving under the influence, being a passenger in the car with a drunk driver)
- Getting rid of—or giving away—sentimental items or belongings for no apparent reason
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
- Having erratic sleeping patterns (excessive sleep or no sleep)
What is the Best Way to Support Youth During COVID-19 (and after)
Despite the daunting statistics and possible mental health repercussions resulting from the pandemic, there are ways to help address and prevent mental illness and symptoms from worsening. One of the best things parents and caregivers can do to help adolescents and young adults is to talk with them honestly, calmly, and openly. And, to try to practice these same actions with other adults.
Children—no matter what age—are attuned to the behaviors and actions of the adults around them. They pick up on the moods, reactions, and actions and often mimic them (whether intentionally or unintentionally). You can help set the stage for open discussion, inviting a safe place and demeanor to receive their emotions and feelings.
Additional ways to support the mental health of young people as the pandemic continues—and in its eventual wake—include:
- Help Shape the Narrative
Even the most intelligent and intuitive teens and young adults can misinterpret or misconstrue pandemic-related information. You can help remedy this by gathering the facts about COVID-19 yourself and relaying them to your child in a calm and factual manner. You can also encourage your teen to limit watching or reading stories about the pandemic that may incite fear or worry.
- Establish and Maintain Routines
With many areas of the country still subjected to school closings, or that are on hybrid schedules, some children have been self-guaranteed for extensive lengths of time. Their educational, social, and entertainment sources have by-and-large been stripped—along with daily habits and routines. To help restore familiarity and order, integrate home routines such as waking up at set times, restricting technology use, providing scheduled activity times, and ensuring that some type of physical exercise is implemented throughout the week.
- Provide Regular Reassurance
No matter what age your child is, reassurance can go a long way in assuaging fear and anxiety. Help remind your child that, together, you will take the journey day by day, and find ways to help effectively cope. And again, since they are watching you—show them how you successfully handle stress—by taking walks, practicing yoga and meditation, sticking to routines of your own, and embracing a calm, pragmatic approach when it comes to new pandemic-related news and developments.
- Up and Encourage Self-Care (Especially During Stressful Instances)
“Extra stressful” times are certain to strike. When they do, it’s important to indulge in extra TLC. Whether it’s a painting nails session, suggesting a favorite binge-worthy show, reading a favorite book, playing an old-school board game, or getting out the watercolors and paintbrushes, indulging in self-care goes a long way to reduce stress. Sometimes, it can even be something as simple as a lazy nap or breakfast in bed to help your child recharge and feel cared for during a more challenging time.
- Facilitate Connection
Even though social distancing is still recommended to keep families healthy and safe, the lack of “normal” interactions with friends and family can make children feel sad, mad, frustrated, and alone. And, while social media, Zoom, Skype, and other forms of virtual communication can feel like a double-edged sword (in the case of bullying or overstimulation, as examples), it can help maintain a sense of connection. For those who live in areas where weather permits small outside gatherings—consider allowing a “masked” friend or two to socially-distance on the porch with your teen (or at a nearby park).
And, if you feel that your child is struggling or exhibiting signs of mental illness, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. As we have illustrated here, you are not alone! Millions of parents across the nation are learning how to best help their older children through these unprecedented times.
At Futures, we provide individual therapy by licensed clinicians, family therapy, case management support, group therapy, and recreational activities in an effort to help people identify stressors, find healthy coping mechanisms, incorporate lasting solutions, promote healthy social skills, improve overall wellbeing and self-care, and more. Our programs are available to female and male individuals ages 18 and above.
Your young adult can be on the way to healing, happiness, and a more peaceful life. Contact us confidentially online or by phone at 866-804-2098.