Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic brought about a shift in living conditions and socio-cultural factors. It has been challenging for people to deal with rapid changes in lifestyles, cope with frequent lockdowns, work and study from their homes, and deal with death and the potential loss of loved ones.
Meherali et al. conducted a systematic review to explore the mental health of adolescents and children within the background of Covid-19 and other past pandemics. What they found was quite disturbing and a cause for concern among mental health professionals. During and after each pandemic, they saw an uptick in the levels of depression, anxiety, disturbances in sleep and appetite, and isolation. Consequently, there have also been instances of suicide rates increasing in various countries among teenagers.
We had a quick chat with Julie Payne, MFT, to understand what is happening with teenagers today and how best one can provide them with the support they need.
A Pioneering Therapist Who Brought Trauma-Informed Model to Campuses
Julie Payne is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in children and teens. She has been in practice for over 15 years, and has also worked as a clinical supervisor. She is the founder of THRIVE In Schools, a trauma-informed therapy model provided on campus. It bridges the gap between traditional school-based services, school counselors, and external therapists. THRIVE focuses on a collaborative approach involving school/teachers, teens, and parents/families. This program was her doctoral project, and her dissertation is currently being published.
1. What problems/challenges are you seeing today with teens?
Teens face significant challenges in many areas more than ever before. Not only are we seeing an increase in the negative impact of social media and technology usage, but we also see the long-term impact of the pandemic. Prevalence of anxiety and depression are at an all-time high, and suicidal ideation and attempts to commit suicide have also seen a rapid increase.
2. In what areas are these challenges evident?
How our educational system approached schooling during the pandemic has had a lasting impact. The pressure to perform according to regular academic standards and missing out on their much-needed and essential peer interactions and social support have resulted in stress and isolation. Integrating students into the classroom again without really addressing how the pandemic impacted each student individually is foolhardy. Every family has had its own experience with the pandemic and its challenges while maintaining regular school routines. Unfortunately, many teens did not have the social support they were previously used to. The inability to see friends in real-life or do things they enjoyed drastically impacted their mental health.
3. Before the pandemic, what were the most common challenges you faced with teens?
Before the pandemic, mental health in teens had been on the rise over the last decade. We can’t blame everything we see on the pandemic alone. It has been a perfect storm, with the culmination being the pandemic. Before the pandemic, depression and anxiety were increasing at an alarming rate, and mental health continues to be underfunded and underserved.
4. What can you advise parents with post-pandemic teen problems?
Parents’ most important part in resolving post-pandemic problems in their teens is to recognize that they have struggled more than most people realize in the last few years. It is essential to take unnecessary pressure off of them, connect with them, and address any concerns or issues they may be experiencing. I cannot express how often parents did not know their teen was depressed or struggling. Depression does not typically look like what we expect, such as in adults or in ads for antidepressant medications. Most teens with depression will not be sad and crying, staring out a window. They will likely still be laughing, doing things with friends, and getting things done. They may be noticing that they are withdrawing more than usual or angry or moody more than average. They may also struggle with schoolwork, but the adults in their lives often miss it.
5. What is the best therapy teens can get?
Any therapy can be effective at helping teens. There are a variety of modalities and therapists out there. The most critical component is the connection between the teen and the therapist. If the teen dislikes or distrusts the therapist, therapy will not be beneficial. I approach my work with teens by working with them and developing a solid relationship, but I also work with the parents and families to help bring the necessary changes. It isn’t straightforward to work with teens without involving the parents in work, as they are a product of their environment.
Do not neglect the mental health of your teen
As Julie Payne clearly explains, there has been a surge in mental health issues among teenagers. This is backed by evidence, as per the systematic review by Meherali et al. The most common problems among teenagers post-pandemic are depression, anxiety, loneliness, and disruption in eating and sleeping habits. Parents need to recognize that their happy-to-go-lucky teen may secretly suffer depression, anxiety, or another form of psychological distress. It is essential to have a heart-to-heart talk and guide them to a licensed therapist to address problems promptly. In short, do not mistake neglecting your teen’s mental health. Seek help today.