We are in the midst of a youth and adolescent mental health crisis. Recently, Surgeon General Murthy issued an advisory addressing how the pandemic has further exposed these mental health challenges among our nation’s young people.
Parents, caregivers and other adults like teachers, grandparents and coaches may have noticed emotional and mental health changes in their pre-teen or teen over the course of the pandemic, but when is it cause for concern rather than mood changes that are typical during this developmental period?
“Being the parent of teenagers, I understand that this can be a challenging distinction. Lots of social and emotional changes happen during the pre-teen and teenager years, and consistency and routines are really important,” said Carmen Holley, LCSW, Mental Health Consultant for Lurie Children’s Center for Childhood Resilience. “Mood swings are typical during this phase of life and are generally not an area of great concern. However, if the mood changes seem more severe and long-lasting, this might be a sign that the child may need additional support.”
Holley shares, “First, I want parents and caregivers to know that it is normal to feel overwhelmed with all of the messages they receive about keeping their children safe. At the same time, our children are having all kinds of feelings about their experiences, feeling anxious being one of them. Feeling anxious from time to time is a typical response to stress. However, anxiety that is intense, prolonged, and seems to ‘come out of the blue’, might warrant a conversation with a child’s healthcare provider.”
It's natural for a teenager to experience a range of moods and emotions throughout the day. Holley shares that it’s important to stay involved and communicate with your teen or child. Young people have a lot on their plate and juggle school, part-time jobs, their social life and more, so it can be hard to know when it’s more than sadness and cause for concern.
“Sadness is a typical, temporary emotion. Depression is a mood disorder that is much more than feeling sad (although sadness is one symptom of depression). Some warning signs for depression in pre-teens and teenagers might be: feeling sad/hopeless most of the time, irritability, lack of interest in leisure activities, insomnia and changes in their sleeping and/or eating habits,” said Holley.
Over the last couple years, the pandemic, coupled with the events that have led to civil unrest, have had a cumulative impact on so many young people and their families. Adults play a critical role in helping children and teenagers process their feelings and make meaning of their experiences. “If I could give some guidance to parents, caregivers and trusted adults, I would say listen and comfort,” advises Holley. “Listen to your child, with patience and without judgement. Comfort the young person by telling them that all feelings are ok, and that you are there to be with them through all of it. We have experienced a collective trauma, and so there must be a collective healing. A place to start is with ourselves. As adults, we need to acknowledge what we are grappling with, and how to heal ourselves. This is a critical first step to being able to support our kids.”
Center for Childhood Resilience (CCR) is dedicated to promoting access to high-quality mental health services for children and adolescents across Illinois and nationwide.