A Year of Anxiety for Teens
The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic one year ago, in March of 2020. Since then, its effects have reached everyone in some form. Adults are working from home. Medical appointments are being conducted remotely. School is being held virtually. This has been a year of anxiety for teens especially, as they have faced the challenges of isolation and pandemic-related stress.
Parents have watched their children try to deal with the pandemic while struggling themselves with how best to navigate the changes of the past year. When these parents see their teens experience mental and emotional issues, they are often frustrated by the process of deciding what to do and how to help.
Parents are finding that it can be difficult for teens to get the help they need or to even receive a psychiatric diagnosis. When their child exhibits certain symptoms that become concerning to them, their initial instinct is to call 911 or to take their teen to the emergency room, because they see no other option.
Emergency Room Visits Increasing
The CDC has reported that the proportion of mental health-related visits to the emergency room increased beginning in April 2020 and remained elevated through October of the same year. Compared with the same months in 2019, the proportion of mental health visits increased approximately 31% for young people between the ages of 12 and 17. The researchers stated that the increase in the proportion of emergency visits for children’s mental health concerns might reflect increased pandemic-related stress.
Emergency Departments Unprepared
Beyond the fact that most emergency rooms have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also the challenge that many lack the capability to provide mental health services. In response to this crisis, a study was done of the emergency departments in the US. The study found that the majority of children do not have access to an ER with pediatric mental health care services.
In fact, only around 46% of emergency departments have any form of mental health care policy for younger patients. Those located in remote areas of the country were 60% less likely to have such a policy. When teens go to the emergency room, they are typically treated for physical symptoms and then sent home.
Teenage Anxiety During COVID
The isolation imposed by the pandemic has been particularly hard on some teens, who have not been able to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities, have begun to take all classes online, and have not socialized in person with their friends since last March. It has been a year of anxiety for teens, particularly for those who were already showing some signs of mental health issues or mood disorders.
Dr. Adiaha I.A. Spinks-Franklin, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, notes that “What parents and children are consistently reporting is an increase in all symptoms — a child who was a little anxious before the pandemic became very anxious over this past year.” She adds that this prolonged stress blunts the brain’s ability to manage emotions.
While these teens may not qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis, they may also not be seen as having experienced trauma in the widely accepted sense of that diagnosis. Young people are simply trying to manage an interruption in their normal lives, much like everyone else during the pandemic. For the developing brain, though, particularly one that is experiencing some form of mental health or mood issue, that can become a huge challenge which can result in heightened anxiety.
Teens have been facing a sudden and indefinite suspension of their regular routine and of their in-person social connections. This can leave a deep, vague sense of loss in the teenager. When this type of grief does not have a name, it is often referred to as “ambiguous loss.” The ensuing anxiety can cause devastating issues for the teens and their families.
Teen Anxiety and Self-Harm Behaviors
During Self-Harm Awareness Month, it is particularly important to focus on the effect of anxiety on self-harm or self-injury behavior in teens. Self-harm – including cutting, burning, hair pulling, and other self-injury concerns – often begins in the very early teen years. This behavior is commonly the result of anxiety, confusion, sadness, and distress. Teens use self-harm as a way to cope with their negative emotions. Recent studies have found that as many as one-third to one-half of teens have engaged in a form of self-harm.
Increased Suicide Risk Screens
In a study published in December 2020, researchers found that the rates of youth suicidal ideation and suicide attempts increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, corresponding to the times of increased COVID-related concerns within their communities.
The results of the study showed a significantly higher rate of suicidal ideation in March and July 2020 and higher rates of suicide attempts in February, March, April, and July 2020, as compared with the same months in 2019. The researchers concluded that these numbers indicate that youth experienced an elevated level of distress during those periods.
We’re Here to Help During the Pandemic
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we understand that the stress of the pandemic environment can cause significant challenges for teens and for the whole family. The link between teen anxiety and COVID-19 is a growing concern.
We provide family counseling and parenting support, as well as psychotherapy and therapeutic consulting services, to support you, your child, and your entire family’s mental health. We offer in-office and telehealth therapy options during COVID-19. We encourage you to contact the Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to learn more about the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.