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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the daily routines for most people in America and across the world. Lockdowns, quarantines, and uncertainty have been stressful for many people and caused an increase in mental health struggles across the country. One group whose mental health has been greatly affected by the pandemic is teenagers. Read on to learn about this “third wave” of COVID and how it’s affected American teenagers’ mental health. 

The Third Wave

The first and second waves of COVID are the disease sweeping over the country. But there’s a “third wave” of COVID affecting teenagers’ mental health, and this group has been greatly affected. Because of this virus, there’s been an increase in mental health crises. Normally being a teenager is a fun, exciting, uncomfortable, and anxious time in our lives. Many teenagers already struggle with mental illness. With the pandemic though, the teenage experience has changed for teenagers today, and their mental health has suffered—for those who already had mental health challenges and those who hadn’t experienced any before. 

Why Teenagers Have Been Affected by the Pandemic

One reason teenagers have been severely affected by the pandemic is because adolescents rely on close friendships and relationships to maintain a sense of self-worth and keep their mental health stable. Research has found that the strength of close friendships between teenagers are a predictor of their mental health when they’re adults. 

Teenagers who develop strong close friendships while they’re young are less likely to experience depressive and anxious symptoms when they’re adults. The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted this opportunity for teens to develop close friendships with each other. Teens are separated from their peers for extended periods of time with only an opportunity to develop friendships over the internet through tools like Zoom. 

The teenage years are also filled with moments like high school graduation, football games, proms, getting a driver’s license, dating, and school trips. But the pandemic has prevented today’s teens from experiencing these milestones. Adults have the perspective of age to understand that these milestones don’t affect long term happiness or success, but teenagers can struggle to cope with the loss of normalcy and the opportunities that are typically available to teens. 

The Pandemic’s Effects on Teenage Mental Health

In general, teenagers have experienced a lack of connectivity and increased fear for the future and their basic needs being met. Researchers have found that overall students are experiencing a trauma that would greatly benefit them ongoing support.

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Another study showed that teenagers have experienced an 11.5% increased risk for sleep impairment. These increases in general unhappiness and fear for the future illustrate the increase in mental health struggles in teenagers during COVID.

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Before the pandemic, 8.6% of teenagers experienced severe anxiety. During the pandemic, 16.7% of children experience severe anxiety. Nearly twice as many children are experiencing mental health struggles relating to anxiety than prior to the pandemic. Children in single-parent homes, homes with less than three children, parents with job related changes from the pandemic, or with family members or friends with COVID-19 have increased risk for mental health struggles. 

The first point of mental health crises care is often the emergency room. Research on teenagers in the emergency room for mental health related emergencies has shown the following increases between March 16 and October:

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These months contain the bulk of the pandemic restrictions, so this time period shows general trends for the effects of the pandemic on teenagers. Researchers compared emergency room data from 2019 and this period in 2020 to determine the effects on teenagers’ mental health. While there was an initial drop in emergency room visits due to hospital restrictions, emergency visits increased quickly and surpassed the 2019 numbers. This study shows that the amount of mental health emergencies in teenagers during the pandemic has increased. 

Improving Mental Health during COVID-19 for Teens

The relationship between teenagers and COVID is startling, and the research can be disconcerting. But despite the increase of mental health struggles in teens, there’s still help and many resources. For emergencies, including suicide, call 911. For other mental health struggles, these are some tips for teenagers to cope with the pandemic:

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Utilize every tool to maintain relationships.

While technology can in no way completely replace in-person interactions, these tools can still be used positively to help with mental health. Children should take the time to call, text, email, and instant message on social media to maintain their close friendships. Even these little bits of interaction can help teens feel a bit more connected to others.

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Take a break.

The information overload of a pandemic and increased time on social media can be overwhelming and affect teens’ mental health. In addition, they’re doing schoolwork at home, which can be taxing. It’s important to take a break from school, social media, and the news. Take the time to do something you enjoy safely.

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Spend time on physical health.

It’s important to eat enough, eat healthily, spend time exercising, get enough sleep, and drink enough water to maintain physical health. Improved physical health can help with mental health as well. There are many fun ways to exercise indoors like yoga, meditation, dancing, weight-lifting, and more. Taking time to meditate can also be beneficial for teenagers’ mental health.

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These suggestions are only the beginning of helping teens with their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Professional mental health services are often beneficial to returning to a life of hope and satisfaction. Here at The Phoenix we create research-backed and tailored mental health programs to provide teenagers the support they need—even in these difficult times. Contact us to learn more about our mental health services and schedule an evaluation.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT