Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Adolescent Mental Health

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, about mental health trends and major treatment gaps were noticed among young people in the United States. Based on data from the National Survey on Use and Health, an estimated 13.3% of U.S. teens aged 12-17 experienced at least 1 episode of major depressive disorder in 2017, though 60.1% of individuals who did not receive treatment for their disease.1

In addition, survey results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an increase in high school students in the United States experiencing persistent sadness or hopelessness (from an estimated 26% in 2009 to 37% in 2019), severe suicidal ideation (from 14% to 19%), suicide planning (from 11% to 16%), and suicide attempt (from 6% to 9%). The highest risk levels were observed for White, female, and sexual minority students compared with non -White, male, and heterosexual students.2

Early findings have shown that these issues are particularly exacerbated in the current crisis, with a higher risk of worsening mental health among individuals with pre-existing psychological problems. These outcomes showed increased symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder among adolescents of different age groups.3.5 “The number, severity and duration of these symptoms were influenced by age, history of trauma, psychological state prior to the event, hours spent watching the media coverage of the event, had a member of the family who died and had or did not have social and economic supports, ”Hertz and Barrios wrote in a paper issued in February 2021 in Avoid injury.2

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They note that school closures could reduce access to mental health screening and care for vulnerable students, considering the large number of young people-nearly 3.5 million in 2018-who have received such services in educational settings.2 These settings represent the sole source of mental health services for many adolescents, particularly those from low-income families and racial and ethnic minority groups. The authors thus emphasize increasing the importance of collaboration between schools and community health professionals to meet the growing mental health needs of students.

Adolescents and other young people are also affected by the impact of the pandemic on their caregivers, including unemployment, financial and emotional stress, and fear of infection, highlighting the need for adults who also receive adequate care and support as well.6.7 Some young people are forced to spend a lot of time in abusive or otherwise unusable homes due to quarantine requirements.

“Assessing a child’s safety at home is one of the main challenges posed by mental health professionals during a pandemic,” agrees in a November 2020 co-written paper by Cécile Rousseau, MD, researcher, psychiatrist, and division professor. in social and transcultural psychiatry at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.6 “Infused with parental stress and without the kindness of school or child care, the risk of ill-treatment as the rate of cases reported in youth protection decreases.”

Providers at hospitals across the United States are reporting an alarming increase in the rate of attempted and completed suicides among young people especially teenagers. A Las Vegas school district has lost 19 children to suicide since the pandemic began. Regarding the increasing number of pediatric patients showing up in hospitals across the country with suicidal ideation, clinics described them as having a “worse mental state” compared to the same patients typically seen before. the pandemic.8

Such trends underscore the vital importance of youth outreach and creativity in creativity and support in these hours. Mental health providers “must continue to fight to ensure that families and children get the mental health support they need to support resilience, to reduce family conflict and child abuse, and to reduce the adoption of risky, unsafe, and risky behaviors, ”the November 2020 article stated.6

We recently interviewed Dr Rousseau to further discuss these issues and potential solutions.

Cecile Rousseau, MD

What are the believed reasons for the largely low rate of mental health treatment among young people even in pre-pandemic?

I believe there are 2 main reasons: First, MH services are generally difficult to access and often less accessible to young people. Even if some of the emerging models address this, it is not done in general. Second, there is a widespread tendency to confuse psychological distress and its expression – through sadness, anxiety, and anger – with mental illness.

The first has to do with life being destructive, which is very common, while the second has to do with more individual weaknesses. Of course, the 2 strangeness overlap, but in past times, the difficulty was not medical or a matter of treatment. However, it is communicated through interpersonal networks, spirituality, and so on. In recent decades there has been a paradigm shift.

How has the pandemic affected and exacerbated mental health issues in this population?

The pandemic first creates a severe stress response – which is normal, with fear and panic reactions, and so on. To some extent, it supports adherence to public health measures. Over time, it becomes a chronic stress reaction with primary avoidance symptoms such as rejection and reduced risk of pandemic. There is also increasing anger and resentment about restrictions, which are primarily about escape through conspiracy theories, and the legitimacy of violence.

These are widespread reactions, which are not present in the disease. However, for many people with a disability, the disease exacerbates their symptoms, with the exception of a few cases of phobia – particularly school phobia – or cyber reliance, as individuals can enjoy imprisonment.

What are the relevant recommendations for clinicians regarding how to address these practice and advocacy issues for their adolescent patients?

In the clinic, the reach of our patients to maintain continued care is essential. In cases of frequent family conflict, virtual care should be used with caution as it does not provide the necessary confidentiality and security and may exacerbate family conflict in some cases.

For new cases, management needs to include reducing the impact of pandemic outcomes-often from social isolation and lack of arousal-on young people’s development.

What are some of the broader, longer -term solutions provided that are also needed?

Schools and colleges should take precedence over prevention. In Canada, pediatricians advocate for young people getting back to school and preserving their social network (not partying, of course!). Young people need their peers to continue their work of segregation, and this becomes impossible during incarceration. We need to find a balance between the safety of the elderly and meeting the developmental needs of the teenager.


  1. Lots of sadness. National Institute of Mental Health. Updated February 2019. Accessed online February 7, 2021. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml
  2. Hertz MF, Barrios LC. Youth mental health, COVID-19, and the value of community school partnerships. Inj. 2021; 27 (1): 85-86. doi: 10.1136 / injuryprev-2020-044050
  3. Rogers AA, Ha T, Ockey S. The perceived social-emotional impact of COVID-19 in adolescents and implications for mental health: results from a US-based mixed-use study. J Youth in Adolescence. 2021; 68 (1): 43-52. doi: 10.1016 / j.jadohealth.2020.09.039
  4. Liang L, Ren H, Cao R, et al. The effect of COVID-19 on mental health in adolescents. Psychiatrist Q. 2020; 91 (3): 841-852. doi: 10.1007 / s11126-020-09744-3
  5. Ma Z, Zhao J, Li Y, et al. Mental health problems and association with 746 217 college students during the 2019 coronavirus outbreak in China. Epidemiol Psychiatrist Sci. 2020; 29: e181. doi: 10.1017 / S2045796020000931
  6. Rousseau C, Miconi D. Protecting the mental health of young people during the COVID-19 pandemic: a challenging process of interaction and learning. J Am Acad Youth Psychiatry. 2020; 59 (11): 1203-1207. doi: 10.1016 / j.jaac.2020.08.007
  7. Chatterjee R. Making space, listening, offering hope: How to help a suicidal teenager or child. NPR. Published online February 2, 2021. Accessed online February 7, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/02/02/962185779/make-space-listen-offer-hope-how-to-help-a-child-at-risk-of- suicide
  8. Chatterjee R. Children’s psychiatrist warns that a pandemic could push up children’s suicide risk. NPR. Published online February 2, 2021. Accessed online February 7, 2021. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/02/02/962060105/child-psychiatrists-warn-that-the-pandemic-may-be-driving-up-kids-suicide-risk

This article originally appeared Psychiatry Counseling

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