Anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health issues in adolescents have been major concerns for quite a while now. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic – and the associated lockdowns and other social restrictions – has exacerbated these issues manifold.
According to a Journal Pediatric report, the number of COVID-related tensions and stressors are directly proportional to the number of adolescent suicides recorded. The report compared the positive suicide risk screenings during January to July 2020 (post-COVID period) to January to July 2019 (pre-COVID period).
In addition, the National Suicide Prevention helpline also observed the call volume going up by 4% during the period December 2019 to December 2020.
Risk Factors for Mental Health Challenges in Adolescents
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), around 10 to 20% adolescents around the world are struggling with mental health challenges.
During adolescence, young people strive hard to fit in – both emotionally and physically. This is a time when children are vulnerable to school-related problems, bullying, family dysfunction, social ostracizing, and other kinds of traumas. Any of these factors can lead to an onset of mental health concerns.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in these risk factors. As per a Surgeon General report, adolescents were exposed to a number of mental health risk factors during the pandemic, some of which are:
Increase in anxiety, fear, and stress
Adverse familial environment (parents engaging in substance abuse, for example)
Parental depression (In February 2021, 6% of Kentucky adults were struggling with depression and anxiety brought about as a result of the pandemic)
Abuse or mistreatment from parents
Loss of church, sport, school, and a sense of community
Loss of crucial and supportive relationships (relatives, friends, mentors)
The Role of Social Media Use in Adolescent Mental Health Challenges:
Research shows that 63% teens are spending more time on social media than they did prior to the pandemic. While young people should be encouraged to stay connected during these unprecedented times, excessive social media usage has a lot more problems than it has advantages.
According to experts, the obsession with gaining ‘likes’ or other positive feedback on their social media pictures can cause adolescents and teenagers to make unhealthy comparisons between their lives and appearances and those of their friends or other people that they follow on these platforms. These comparisons can harbor feelings of dissatisfaction, which can then evolve into depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
Moreover, the anonymity granted by social media makes it so much easier for people to indulge in cyber-bullying. Adolescents who are victims of cyber-bullying are around twice as likely to indulge in self-harming acts (including suicide), compared to adolescents who have not endured cyber-bullying.
Even more interesting is the fact that cyber-bullies, themselves, are around 20% likelier to self-harm compared to non-bullies. This shows that bullying is also often a product of insecurity and low-self esteem.
Final Word – A Message to Parents:
If you are a parent or caregiver to an adolescent, it is imperative that you identify signs of mental distress in your child. In addition, if the child is suffering from mental health issues, you should be clear about the steps that you need to take and who to reach out to in case of an emergency.
If your child or someone you know is suffering from a mental health problem, they might be able to benefit from counseling or therapy. If so, please feel free to reach out to us and allow us to help.