Mental health and teenagers: how COVID-19 can affect the young mind

Mental health and teenagers: how COVID-19 can affect the young mind

Many students are heading back to school soon, and this year will look a little different than previous ones. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic changes everything. For teens already going through regular physical changes, this can be a lot to handle.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Here are some ways you can help your teen navigate COVID-19 and stay on top of their mental health:

Teen with hands on head sitting on park bench - a sign of teen mental health.

Tell them it’s okay to be stressed out

Everyone is handling the stress differently, but COVID-19 touches everyone’s lives. Everyone is feeling the stress. Students who have to attend school online or learn in a different method might be struggling with the change. Remind them that everyone has feelings about it, and those feelings are valid.

It’s okay to be stressed. Finding ways to cope with that stress and ease anxiety in a healthy way is important. Here are ways to help your teen deal with stress: 

  • Encourage your child to exercise or get out of the house or go on a walk with them
  • Make sure your child has special time to do an activity they enjoy and give them space if they need it
  • If you notice your teen has lost interest in something they used to love, talk with them about their feelings; if it persists, schedule a doctor’s appointment
  • Ask questions and check in with your teen
  • Encourage them to meditate or stretch and focus on non-COVID-19 topics
  • Make sure they stay in touch with their friends via video chat or social media

It’s highly important to reduce stress in a growing mind and teach healthy habits for coping with stress.

Teen staring at phone in dark room - mental health and social media photo

Limit their social media and news intake

While allowing your teen to stay connected with friends is highly important, limit the amount of news they consume. There is a lot of confusion information out there about COVID-19. Encourage them to stay up to date on what is happening through trusted sources like the CDC. There are many neutral news organizations that are highly informative.

Teen and mom outside squatting for photo - parents can help youth with mental help crises.

Be understanding

As an adult, many have the necessary coping skills to handle sudden change. That may not be the case for teenagers. The way you react to situations often speaks volumes to your children. Be understanding if your teen begins to act out. Every teenager will react differently, and they need to know you are a “safe space.”

If they’re feeling frustrated because they see other friends not wearing a mask or going out and participating in activities, have a conversation about it. Help them understand the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing. Remind them that this is temporary.

Sad teen sitting in dark room staring out window - why mental health is so important

Watch for signs of suicidal tendencies

Suicide is a hard topic to talk about sometimes, but it’s a necessary topic to address. If you notice your teen is acting differently, have a conversation. The National Institute of Mental Health shares these warning signs of depression or suicidal thinking:

  • Feelings of isolation, depression or anxiety, hopelessness, feeling trapped or having no reason to live
  • Talking about wanting to die, guilt or shame, being a burden to others
  • Sudden, severe mood swings, extreme sadness, agitation or becoming full of rage
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or friends, withdrawing from friends, giving away important items or saying goodbye to people
  • Eating or sleeping more or less
  • Taking dangerous risks like driving fast or carelessly
  • Sudden or increased drug and alcohol use to cope with stress

The signs above are just some of the ways your teen might be displaying suicidal tendencies. It’s a good idea to speak with your family doctor or a professional therapist.

If your child is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish).