The pandemic has had a significant impact on youth mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in the first six months after the pandemic began, there was a drastic increase in calls to suicide prevention hotlines and an overall increase in mental illness diagnosis rates. It’s no secret we are in the throes of a mental health crisis.
The back-to-school season is a time of new beginnings – for students, adults, and educators. For many families and educators, this means settling into a routine after months of summer break. This busy time of year can be chaotic and challenging for children and teens. It’s not uncommon for feelings of anxiety or depression to flare up when returning to school, especially after a long period of virtual learning.
The COVID pandemic has heightened awareness about mental health education in the classroom during the back-to-school season.
Potential Mental Health Concerns
Most teens partook in some form of virtual learning during the pandemic. Between school closings, canceled extracurriculars, and general isolation, our children’s mental health was very likely negatively impacted.
A study that was published in BMC Psychiatry found that people who experienced long-term isolation were at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Additionally, these individuals may have difficulty forming new social attachments and experience lower levels of well-being.
The CDC reported that alcohol and drug abuse increased substantially in teens staying home from school during the pandemic.
Being out of sync with regular everyday school activities and social activities has had a devastating impact on teens and adolescents, and we will see more of the long-term mental health impacts of pandemic isolation as students and parents return to their normal schedules. Parents, teachers, and schools will have to work together to combat this emerging mental health crisis in schools. In the meantime, there are things that parents can do at home to ensure that their children’s mental health is being protected.
Mental Wellness Tips for Parents, Teens, and Adolescents
Prepare for the start of the new school year by having a youth mental health plan in place to address potential issues. The following are tips for parents who want to support their teenagers during the first few months of the school year while keeping mental health in mind:
Establish a Regular Communication Routine
Make sure you and your teen are talking about what’s going on in their lives. This can be as simple as having dinner together every night or discussing important life events during long phone calls.
Offer Practical Support
If your teenager is struggling with anxiety or depression, offer them rides to and from class, or offer to help get them support from a mental health professional. Let them know that you’re there for them no matter what happens – even if they don’t feel like talking about it right now.
Encourage Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Help your teenager find ways to relax, distract themselves from thoughts of suicide or school failure, and pursue interests that make them happy. This could include involvement in extracurricular activities, spending time with friends, or getting exercise.
Provide a Safe and Relaxing Home Environment
Show your support by helping them to create a safe space where they can find temporary relief from anxiety and stress away from school.
Be Understanding and Empathetic
It can be difficult for teens to open up about their struggles, even when they want to. Nevertheless, provide opportunities for open communication when they are ready to express their feelings. Let students know you’re willing to listen to their mental health concerns.
Behavioral Problems in Teens
When teenagers feel overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, they may act out in unhealthy ways. And, for teens, the feelings of depression and anxiety can compound the stresses of starting school.
If your child is taking part in risky activities, acting out in class or at home, or is otherwise displaying behavioral problems, there is likely an underlying mental health problem at play. Enlist the help of teachers, a school counselor, or professional mental health services if your child is showing severe signs of distress. They can provide kids and parents with information and additional resources on how children and students can manage symptoms like anxiety, stress, or depression.
Parents should understand that their child’s mental health may have been profoundly impacted by the world events of the past few years. They are likely just as tired and stressed as you are as they work toward taking charge of their own mental health and becoming confident adults.
Where to Get Help for Teen Mental Illness
If your student is struggling with anxiety, losing sleep, or showing other signs of distress during these first few months back to school, there are a plethora of mental health resources that can help. The most convenient places to turn to include school counselors, student health centers, or mental health professionals.
Licensed mental health professionals are the best resources for parents and kids seeking treatment for mental health issues. They are also excellent resources to help kids and teens mentally process the transition of going back to school. Licensed therapists can help kids build a healthy mental foundation along with healthy coping strategies for dealing with their emotions.
If you are simply looking to learn more, the National Mental Health Association (NMHA) offers a variety of resources to help young people deal with issues such as depression, anxiety, self-image problems, substance abuse, and family problems. Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a variety of resources for parents and children to help deal with issues such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
What Mental Health Programs Are Available for Teenagers?
If you are concerned about your teenager’s mental health, reach out to a mental health professional as soon as possible. If your family is based in the Southern California area, consider Clear Recovery Center’s Teen Program. Clear Recovery Center offers multiple levels of care, and our mental health experts are trained to help young adults overcome and persevere through the back-to-school season.