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Teen anxiety on the rise



It’s important to listen to your teens and take their concerns seriously

teens, anxiety, pandemic, parents, listen

The global coronavirus pandemic has triggered a rise in mental health issues across the country, especially among teens. In a new survey commissioned by the National 4-H Council and conducted by the Harris Poll, researchers found seven in 10 teens are dealing with depression, anxiety or increased stress, or a combination of the three.

But what’s most concerning, researchers say, is the number of teens who report they need to suffer in silence. Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed said they feel more pressure to keep their feelings to themselves. Similarly, 67% pretend to feel fine when they’re really not because they don’t want to worry anyone. Over half of respondents indicated increased feelings of loneliness.

What are some possible reasons teens are feeling lonely? And why would a teen want to spend more time alone? Like adults, they’ve been affected by the pandemic as social interaction has been so markedly restricted. Their activities have been canceled, and video chatting is not the same as getting together in person. Given that no one knows when it will truly be possible to resume normal interactions, it’s harder to cope than if there were a known end point.

READ MORE: How mindfulness can help your stressed teen

Worse, still, there has been pressure from adults these recent months to be “fine”. It hasn’t been unusual to hear someone who is expressing distress about missing their friends, missing graduation, worrying about college applications, etc. to be met with a response along the lines of “Stop complaining. People throughout history have had it much worse than you.

Remember, distress isn’t a zero-sum game. Just because someone else has more, doesn’t mean that the person who is sad about missing graduation shouldn’t be sad.

What are the short-term effects of poor teen mental health if not addressed? How about disrupted sleep and appetite which can lead to less healthy food choices, trouble concentrating, and physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches and generally feeling unwell.

What are the long-term effects of poor teen mental health if not addressed?

Some experiencing prolonged excess distress might develop mental health disorders such as depression or an anxiety disorder that could have a significant impact on functioning. Those with untreated depression or anxiety (again, now talking about disorders not just emotions) tend to struggle to complete college and maintain employment. Relationships are likely to be more challenging to develop and maintain in presence of a depressive or anxiety disorder. Some may develop substance use disorders.

The main takeaway from this survey is that teens are reporting a high level of distress and would like to be listened to. They’re feeling that their emotions are not taken seriously. Parents and teachers need to truly listen and not just jump in with a “fix it” or “stop it” approach that invalidates their feelings. Our society tends to emphasize individualism and a “fix it”/pull yourself up by your bootstraps approach rather than letting people know it is OK to need to lean on others and that it is OK to not be OK at times particularly when circumstances are challenging.




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