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Teen Health and Safety

Why It’s Important for Teens and Their Parents to Prioritize Mental Health

COVID-19 is taking an emotional toll on American teens.

According to Mental Health America (MHA), the nation’s leading community-based mental health nonprofit, during the coronavirus pandemic, over 260,000 people have been impacted by anxiety and depression, over 42,000 people have been impacted by psychosis, and more than 90,000 people thought of suicide or self-harm on more than half the days during the pandemic.

“When someone is having a mental health challenge, they’re worried, they’re anxious,” says Paul Gionfriddo, MHA’s president and CEO.

For the past six years, MHA has been offering over a dozen free mental-health screenings online. Typically, two-thirds of those screened are under 25, and a third are under 17. Pre-pandemic, usually 40,000 to 50,000 people would get screened a month. Nowadays, those numbers have been increasing steadily. During the early days of the pandemic, 135,000 people a month were getting screened. By August, that number was 340,000 a month. In all, over one million Americans have been screened so far.

Those screened report feeling lonely and isolated, having problems with relationships and finances, as well as struggling to deal with current events.

 People who got screened told MHA they wanted four things: 1) more information about how they’re feeling, 2) self-help recommendations and DIY tools such as apps or worksheets, 3) engagement with peers, including connecting online communities, and 4) referrals to services and treatments.

 Gionfriddo shares these four insights into supporting the mental health of young people:

 1. The pandemic has been a disruptor

According to Gionfriddo, in most years 20 percent of the population would be diagnosed with a mental health condition. But this year, 50 percent will be diagnosed, including a large percentage of teenagers.

Young people are more willing than older generations to talk about mental health and seek help if needed. But the pandemic’s impact — missing school, friends, and activities — has been particularly hard for them.

 “They’re far more deeply affected by this because it’s been far more disruptive to their lives than it has been to the lives of their parents and grandparents,” he says.

 2. Get screened

Getting screened is the first step to getting help. It takes the guesswork out of wondering what’s normal for young people and what needs more attention.

“It’s reassuring,” Gionfriddo says. “No matter what the result is, you’ve got information. People feel a whole lot more grounded when they know what’s going on in their lives or the lives of their loved ones.”

 The online screening, which is similar to the questions asked by healthcare clinicians, provides results on a scale, such as mild, moderate, or severe depression. MHA also provides real time customized resources on where to get more information, including finding peers, support, and treatments.

 3. Get help early

It’s important to seek help during youth when mental health issues arise.

 “Mental illness is at heart, a disease of childhood,” says Gionfriddo, explaining half of serious mental illnesses emerge by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 25. “If we don’t address them during childhood, then for those who are fortunate enough to get to adulthood, they are frequently finding themselves homeless, incarcerated, hospitalized, unable to work, and more.”

 4. Don’t dismiss your feelings

Gionfriddo says everyone is worried during COVID-19, so people think it’s not a big deal. But the worry is real and shouldn’t be ignored.

 While anxiety and depression can feel overwhelming, take as much control as possible. Practice self-care, like deciding when and what to eat, getting regular sleep, and enjoying hobbies.

 Remember, too, that self-care is not one-size-fits-all. Take the time and effort to find solutions for your personal well-being.

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