By Joanne Cook
There is lots of talk about the impact of COVID19 on mental health and with World Suicide Prevention Day (10 September) and RU OK Day (12 September) approaching, I thought it was worth shining the spot light on teenagers.
Adolescence is an age-stage developmental window in which teenagers experience many firsts. Puberty onset, romantic relationships, starting high school, self-differentiation, emerging independence, learning to drive and a shift from play based social relationships to ones characterised by emotional intimacy and common values/beliefs.
COVID19 has disrupted and changed the way teenagers typically went about their lives. Education is now delivered through remote learning, social connections are made and sustained through social media and platonic physical touch amongst friends is marred by social distancing. Some teenagers are faring well, other’s will describe challenges while most are shifting between the two from time to time. However, some teenagers may be experiencing mental health difficulties for the first time or an exasperation of symptoms related to a pre-existing mental health condition.
How do you know when sadness has moved into depression or worries manifest into anxiety symptoms?
For parents, talk to your teenagers. Ask them how they feel, what’s going on with their friends and give them an opportunity to vent if they need it.
For teenagers, notice how you feel day to day, you may like use a mood tracker app. If you are experiencing more bad days than good, it may be worth talking to a family member, friend, contacting a helpline or accessing professional mental health support in the form of counselling.
Signs of possible mental health decline:
- Changes in appetite which may or may not be accompanied by weight loss or gain
- Changes in sleep. Difficulty getting to sleep, staying asleep or feeling tired all the time
- Social withdrawal or isolation
- Finding it difficult to experience joy with previously loved hobbies or activities
- Difficulties with concentration and/or memory this is effecting your schoolwork
- Irritability with increased conflict in family or friend relationships
- Crying a lot or not crying at all, alongside feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Feeling anxious a lot of the time which may show up as obsessively cleaning, hyper-vigilance, compulsively exercising, heart palpitations, somatic complaints, headaches and insomnia
- Suicidal thoughts or comments. Whether said casually or experienced as intrusive thoughts, this warrants a discussion either initiated by a parent or the teenager
What can parents do support their teenager’s mental well-being?
- Keep the lines of communication open. Even if they’re not dialling in, knowing that their mum and dad is interested and available can give a teenager a sense of security.
- Listen to their complaints or worries. Resist the temptation to fix or offer solutions and provide a space where your teen can talk about their distress or problems knowing that you can handle it and that negative emotions needn’t be avoided.
- Set up opportunities for family fun times. Whether it’s a movie night, games night, video games or exercise together it is important to bridge opportunities for family connectedness
- Choose your battles and with flexibility. What may have been an issue worth addressing pre-COVID, may not now and vice versa.
- What teenagers can do to support your own good mental health
- Try to maintain a healthy routine around sleep, eating, exercise and doing school work. The occasional pyjama day and sleep in is OK, but if you have a flipped sleep-wake cycle it will increase your vulnerability to stress, low mood, irritability and poor physical health.
- Stay socially connected through whatever platform works for you. Take time to relax and enjoy the activities or hobbies that make you feel good.
- Reach out for support. Whether you find them in your family, friendship circle, school community or through a professional mental health support service there is someone willing to listen and wanting to help.
Joanne Cook is a Mental Health Care Social Worker (Counsellor) at Western Health Collective in West Footscray with over 10 years’ experience working with CAMS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Help is here
1800 650 890 or
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1800 888 320 or
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(24 hours a day, 7 days a week).