Stress, fear and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic can wear anyone down, but teens may have an especially tough time coping emotionally right now. Feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious, or angry during the COVID-19 pandemic may be signs that an adolescent need more support during this difficult time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers parent tips that begin with staying in touch with the pediatrician.
“It's normal for teens to feel sad during this time, crying sometimes because they miss their friends or because sports and musical productions were cancelled,” said AAP President Sara Goza, MD, FAAP.. “We urge parents who are concerned to call the pediatrician and ask for help checking on the teen's social and emotional health. This may be something that can begin with a telehealth visit, and your pediatrician is in the best position to know that.”
Pediatricians can screen for depression and ask teens and family members about other concerns like anxiety or trouble coping with stress.
For parents, the AAP recommends:Check in with your teen often to discuss how they're feeling and managing, and watch for signs of mental health struggles. Keep in mind that these signs are not the same for everyone. It's important to offer your teen some privacy to talk with the pediatrician if you do schedule a visit to ensure they have the chance to speak as openly as possible. It’s important for parents to set the tone by trying to stay positive and relaying consistent messages that a brighter future lies ahead. Keep lines of communication open.
Signs that a teen may need more support are:Changes in mood that are not usual for your child, such as ongoing irritability, feelings of hopelessness or rage, and frequent conflicts with friends and family. Changes in behavior, such as stepping back from personal relationships. A lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed. A hard time falling or staying asleep, or starting to sleep all the time. Changes in weight or eating patterns, such as never being hungry or eating all the time. Problems with memory, thinking, or concentration. Changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene (within reason, since many are doing slightly less grooming during this time at home.) An increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol. Thoughts about death or suicide, or talking about it
While not everyone who talks about suicide will act on their words, any talk about suicide should be taken seriously. If you are worried, it is critical to make your home safe by removing weapons and ammunition from the house and securing medications in a locked cabinet.
Seek help immediately by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or texting the Crisis Text Line by texting 'TALK' to 741741. Reserve 911 for situations where self-harming actions are happening or are about to happen. In a non-crisis situation, talk with your pediatrician about any concerns you have about your teen's mental health.
The AAP website for parents, HealthyChildren.org, offers more information on teen mental health during COVID-19 here.