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Teens were already feeling lonely before we even had to lockdown in our homes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teen rates of anxiety and depression had been steadily climbing for years, and a major driver of these mental health conditions was loneliness. Social media and text messaging has overtaken face-to-face communication, an insufficient replacement for human interaction, and that has been a significant factor in teen loneliness of late.
With the nationwide call to sequester at home, feelings of isolation in teens during the coronavirus have escalated. Cut off from school, extracurricular activities, social events, and part-time jobs teens are struggling to accept this new, if temporary, way of life.
The teen years are traditionally a time of life when children transition toward adulthood and acquire their “grown-up” social skills. Teenagers learn how to manage friendships, romantic interests, and navigating social mores in a high school environment. Suddenly, teens are asked to revert to being children under the 24-hour care of their parents. Their autonomy is temporarily taken from them.
One of the most challenging aspects of the government edicts to shelter at home is trying to manage teens that are accustomed to having a lot of personal freedom. Combined with the sense of immortality that all teens seem to have, teen mobility can make it difficult for parents to control their teen’s movements and compliance to the social distancing rules. Parents are tasked with educating their teens about their potential to spread the virus unwittingly without symptoms, and how that can endanger many, many innocent people’s health. Teens must be held responsible for their actions and understand how important it is to stay home, even though it is difficult.
With the feelings of isolation in teens during the coronavirus it is understandable that symptoms of depression may emerge. While adolescents love their family members, they may feel they have outgrown playing board games or other vestiges from childhood. Family members can’t agree on which shows to watch on TV and cabin fever—along with annoyance—is escalating. Even so, the situation is not as grim as it might appear at first glance. There are some things teens can do to help them not only survive the coronavirus lockdown, but to actually thrive.
5 Tips to Help Feelings of Isolation in Teens During Coronavirus
- No F.O.M.O. One of the stressors associated with social media is the idea that a teen may feel they missed out on some fun social event, thus the term Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). Because the coronavirus has imposed isolation on everybody, there is nothing going on anyway, so therefore no FOMO. Remind your teen that although they are feeling lonely and isolated, so are all their friends. Everyone is in the same boat.
- Visual platforms. Utilizing communication platforms that provide visual feeds, such as Zoom or FaceTime, is an excellent stand in for face-to-face interaction for teens with feelings of isolation during the coronavirus. Where texting and Instagram are based on non-visual posts, FaceTime and Zoom offer a more realistic social exchange, where teens can see facial expressions, laugh with each other, and share their stories in real time. Through these types of platforms teens can even sing, dance, play musical instruments, and express themselves in creative ways with their friends.
- Explore passions. Regular life is so busy and full of distractions that it is easy to backburner hobbies and interests that might otherwise be developed. The forced isolation at home is providing a unique opportunity to slow down and focus on the activities you always wished you had time for. Teens may take up painting, drawing, photography, writing, or cooking during this hiatus from normal life. For example, a teen might want to start a cooking blog where they share their recipes and encourage engagement through the platform, providing a connection with others through the blog.
- Commiserate with them. Many teens are feeling significant feelings of loss due to this enforced isolation. Some were due to attend their senior prom or to even graduate this spring. Some athletes look forward to be scouted by coaches in the late spring in hopes of obtaining a scholarship for college ball. Some had big plans for Spring Break or a cool summer vacation. All of these plans have been either canceled or postponed. Let your teenage know you feel badly for them, and acknowledge their feelings of loss as authentic.
- Give them autonomy. While many teens are now being schooled at home through online platforms this is uncharted territory for most. The norm for school has always meant sitting in classrooms and receiving direct instruction from teachers. Parents can provide a good deal of freedom to allow their teen to organize their priorities and complete assignments on time, which can instill feelings of confidence and a sense of accomplishment. This may not work for all teens, but for those who take their academics seriously this could be an opportunity for personal growth.
Even with all these ideas about how to manage this highly unusual moment in history, the teen may begin to show signs of anxiety or depression after a certain period of social isolation. Parents should be on the lookout for signs of mental health issues that may be developing during this period.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression is a difficult mental health disorder with a complex list of potential factors. In 2016 the prevalence of U.S. teens that experienced at least one major depressive episode exceeded 3 million, or nearly 13% of that age population. Although centered in the limbic system of the brain where mood and emotions are regulated, there are a multitude of causes for the dysregulation that control these functions. In teens, stressful events or situations can trigger a depressive episode, such as the coronavirus pandemic, and the feelings of isolation may trigger depression in some teens.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Depressed mood much of the time
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in most activities
- Significant weight loss or gain; decrease or increase in appetite
- Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
- Slowed or agitated movements
- Fatigue; loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Concentration problems; indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death; suicide ideation, or a specific plan for suicide
When the teen begins exhibiting signs of becoming impaired due to the symptoms, it is important to have them evaluated by a mental health professional.
Symptoms of Anxiety
Teen anxiety is on the rise. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), an estimated 32% of adolescents had experienced some form of an anxiety disorder. In addition, the NIMH reports that female teens are more prone to anxiety than males (38% versus 26%), and that 8.3% of adolescents with an anxiety disorder suffer severe impairment in functioning. Such an intense global situation as the coronavirus crisis can leave teens feeling powerless and afraid. In what seems an instant, their lives and everyone else’s have been turned upside down. Anxiety can result.
Symptoms of anxiety include:
- Intense feelings of worry, dread, and fear that are irrational
- Mood swings
- Extreme irritability
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Sleep disruptions
- Tense muscles
- Heart palpitations
- Difficulty concentrating
Teens who struggle with anxiety may gravitate toward substance abuse or self-harming behaviors, so it is important to identify the symptoms of anxiety and reach out to a mental health professional for guidance.
Accessing Mental Health Assistance During the Coronavirus Outbreak
Although the coronavirus event has made accessing mental health care more challenging, help is still available. If your teen is experiencing a serious mental health condition parents may still be able to get them treatment via telemental health services or phone sessions with a therapist. If a teen is experiencing a mental health crisis, a private residential mental health program would be a better option for immediate assistance versus a hospital environment. For the time being, hospital stays should be limited to individuals suffering from the coronavirus.
Once the virus has run its course and businesses, including health practitioners, are back up and running, a teen can begin outpatient care for any psychological complications experienced due to the coronavirus outbreak. Treatment for depression or anxiety will likely include the following treatment elements:
Psychotherapy. There are several evidence-based forms of psychotherapy available to help teens that experienced feelings of isolation during the coronavirus, and may have residual issues. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapy, and psychodynamic therapy.
Psychosocial education. Teens who may have had a difficult time adjusting during the lockdown may benefit from learning some coping skills and interpersonal skills that may help them going forward.
Peer group support. Chances are many teens struggled with emotional instability during the Covid-19 outbreak. Support groups offer an opportunity to share experiences with each other and help process and heal from the ordeal.
Medication. In some instances, a teen may benefit from medication. This is prescribed judiciously, as most doctors are hesitant to put teens on long-term medications. However, in some cases drugs, such as antidepressants, may be helpful.
BNI Treatment Centers Provide Expert Mental Health Services for Teens
BNI Treatment Centers is a residential mental health program for teens serving Los Angeles, California. BNI Treatment Centers emphasizes the importance of a customized treatment plan that incorporates not only evidence-based psychotherapies, but also a variety of experiential treatment elements, such as surf therapy, equine therapy, and art therapy to name just a few. If your teen is struggling with feelings of isolation during the coronavirus outbreak, please contact BNI Treatment Centers today at (888) 522-1504.