We are all living in uncertain times. We are not sure when we will be able to leave our homes, return to work and school. Anxiety and fear may be impacting all of us even if we do not suffer from a mental health issue. The fear of the unknown, the risks of just going to the supermarket or pharmacy, the fact that loved ones may be exposed or worse, become ill from this deadly virus weighs heavily on our minds.
It is very common for both adults and teens to experience higher levels of stress and anxiety during this time particularly due to the social isolation. As humans, we are social creatures by nature and teens, in particular, thrive off of social interaction. As they strive to fit in, develop personal relationships and identify with who they are, they are pulled from their social, work and school life and thrust into a “stay at home” environment where their only connection to other teens is through a phone call or video conference.
According to www.mentalhealth.gov, mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It determines how we manage stress, relate to others, and make decisions. It impacts how we think, feel, and behave. During this time of uncertainty, our mental health is pushed and stretched to the limits. With that in mind, we must be all conscious of the signs and symptoms of mental health issues in ourselves and teens, especially for those who may be susceptible to mental health issues being made worse by stress or trauma.
Signs of Mental Health Issues to look for during COVID-19 quarantine
Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to stress and trauma. Unfortunately, during this time of isolation, stress and trauma are both present and may pose a greater risk for teens who suffer from mental health issues. However, whether you are prone to mental health issues or simply are stressed from the goings-on in the world, anxiety is a real and a controlling beast. The fear of being exposed could turn into terror and interfere with a teen’s ability to function in the “new normal” environment of school, household chores and family relationships.
However, no one is alone in this battle. As the majority of the country and most of the world is in a “stay at home” environment, we should all find comfort in knowing that even “alone”, we are “in this together”. Unfortunately, this knowledge does not stop or suppress those anxious feelings from creeping in.
Quick tips for identifying anxiety:
- Change in sleep patterns
- Increased heart rate
- Suppressed appetite
- Extreme desire to control the situation
No social contact. Seclusion. Isolation. Fear. Depression in teens can be triggered by any number of triggers including, you guessed it, COVID-19. While you may think that your teen is handling the stay at home situation well, in fact, they may be slipping into a mental state of depression. The situation at hand is difficult for adults to manage let alone a teen who is trying to fit in, to handle schoolwork, apply for college and is busy with sports. They are suddenly and unexpectedly ripped from the life that they have grown comfortable with and developed coping skills to manage the challenges of the teen years. They now have to develop new coping mechanisms and outlets. For teens who may struggle with mental illness, this may be a very difficult task.
Quick tips for identifying depression:
- Moodiness and irritability
- Sudden and emotional outburst
- Persistent anger
- Sudden feelings of confusion
- Drastic decrease in energy and motivation
- Restless or fitful sleep
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Deep feelings of sadness
Teens who may be isolated during this stressful time may turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with or alleviating some of the other feelings that they are experiencing. Unable to put into words the emotions that may be erupting or concerned with disrupting the already fragile emotional state of the rest of the family, teens may elect to self-medicate. While substance use may start as a means of dealing with the emotional pain of the situation, it can result in the body becoming dependent on and intoxicated by the euphoric effects that they bring.
Quick tips for identifying alcohol/substance abuse
- Changes in sleep or eating patterns
- Personality changes
- Suddenly secretive
- Change in physical appearance or lack of concern for hygiene
Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating and place a serious threat to a teen’s physical as well as mental health. During a time when everything around them seems to be out of their control, teens may believe that their eating may be the only thing that they do in fact have control over. While they may not have shown any signs before the “Stay at Home” order, this uncertain time may be the trigger causing the mental health issue to rear its ugly head.
Quick tips for identifying eating disorders:
- Extreme feelings of shame or guilt after eating
- Avoiding meals altogether
- Running to the restroom immediately after eating
- Weakness and fatigue
- Abdominal Pain
Unfortunately, an eating disorder is very difficult to detect in some teens until it is too late and damage has already occurred to their organs and brain.
Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders
While the cause of many mental health disorders is unknown, a situation such as the world is facing right now could qualify as the trigger for trauma and stressor-related disorder in teens. Because of the fear, stress, and distress of the situation, teens may experience significant effects that must be treated immediately.
Quick tips for identifying Trauma and Stressor-related Disorders
- Panic attacks
- Avoidance of relationships
- Self-destructive behavior
- Guilt and shame
While all of these issues are treatable, they can certainly be disruptive to family and relationships during a time when nerves may be fragile and tempers short. If left undiagnosed or untreated, mental health issues in teens can lead to permanent damage to a teen’s developing brain and can have a life-altering impact. While it may be difficult to comprehend that you may have to seek professional help for your teen while in a “Stay at home” situation, you must contact their pediatrician for evaluation via phone or teleconference. They may need to refer them to a facility like Beachside Treatment Center where you can be assured that they will receive the treatment that they need to address their mental health issues in a safe environment.
Mental Health Self-check
As parents and caregivers, it is important to perform mental health checks not only for our teens but for ourselves during this time of unpredictability and uncertainty. Life in the “new normal” may be scary, and having to deal with mental health issues in the midst of it may bring on additional stress and anxiety. It is important to watch for signs and symptoms as described earlier as an indication that the current situation is causing or is the trigger for a previously undetected mental health issue.
First things first, before you can take care of anyone, you must take care of yourself. Follow some simple and important tips to ensure that you can keep your finger on your own pulse and that of your teen.
- Feel your feelings. By being in touch with your own feelings and emotions associated with the stress and trauma of being in isolation, you are better suited to recognize the emotions that your teen may be experiencing as well and yet may not be able to process.
- Intentionally implement coping mechanisms. Meditation and mindfulness are very beneficial in helping you to manage the stressors of everyday life in the “new normal” and to help your teen to establish coping mechanisms of their own.
- Monitor yourself with a self-checkup. Evaluate yourself for symptoms such as prolonged sadness, intrusive thoughts, feelings of hopelessness. If you are experiencing any of these, it may be possible that your teen is too.
- Take breaks. Take the time to enjoy the things that you love, things that make you smile! Encourage your family to do the same.
By recognizing the warning signs of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues in yourself, you can best ensure that you can recognize them in your teen as well. If any of the warning signs are present in either yourself or your teen, you must contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible for an evaluation and proper diagnosis. With a treatment plan and assistance from trained professionals like those at Beachside, you and your teen will recover from the mental health issues triggered by these unprecedented circumstances.
None of these mental health issues can or should be handled alone. Unfortunately, stressful circumstances like these bring on an increased risk of self-harm and suicide as the instability of the situation triggers instability in the mind, even something that may have been lying dormant only to be brought out by stress and trauma. While you may be concerned about the loss of a job, taking care of a sick family member, keeping structure and order in the family, you also have to consider how the situation impacts the mental state of the individuals. You, as a parent, caregiver and an individual are just as susceptible under the strain as anyone else and must proactively engage in regular mental health check-ups to endure and come out on the other side.
We will all get through!