The Decline in Teen Mental Health

After the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide have significantly increased for adolescents. The CDC now warns of a steep decline in mental health for these young teens. In a 2021 survey of Youth Risk Behavior, the CDC found that more than 4 in 10 students felt persistently sad or hopeless and more than 1 in 5 seriously considered attempting suicide. The results showed that these feelings were found to be common among LGBTQIA+ students, female students, and students across racial and ethnic groups.

Why does this matter?

Adolescence is a crucial time for the development of activities to enhance emotional, behavioral, and social functioning. These activities may include interacting with others, developing healthy sleeping and eating patterns, learning to manage and express emotions, engaging in extracurricular activities, and developing coping skills for problem solving and conflict resolution. The development of these activities is important not only for physical health, but also mental health and well-being.

Multiple factors affect mental health. The more risk factors adolescents are exposed to, the greater the potential impact on their mental health. Some factors that may contribute to stress and problems with mental health during adolescence include peer pressure, bullying, exploration of self and identity, exposure to violence and aggression, parental loss or divorce, sibling conflict, and socioeconomic problems. Teens with poor mental health may struggle with school and grades, self-esteem, emotion regulation, maintaining relationships, and making decisions. Mental health problems in teens often develop into other health and behavioral risks such as increased risk of drug use, exposure to violence, and risky sexual behaviors. Further, many of our adult health behaviors and habits are established in adolescence; therefore, it is extremely important to help these young teens develop adequate mental health that will eventually carry over into adulthood.

What can I do?

To help foster healthy habits in adolescence, start by creating a safe space for teens to communicate openly about how they are feeling. Model effective communication by having a neutral, open discussion about emotions. Listen, be empathetic and non-judgmental, and forgive your teen for a mistake they may have made but are afraid to share. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have expectations about your teen’s behavior or grades. Rather, you should have expectations without judgment. Let your teen know that you love and care for them – no matter what. This allows them to feel comfortable to say what they feel because they know that you will always help and be there for them. Further, be sure your teen is getting adequate sleep and some exercise. Sleep and exercise have been shown to help improve mood and decrease feelings of anxiety. Encourage socialization through sports teams, clubs, or weekend plans with friends. Lastly, remember that teens pay attention to those around them – if you are struggling with anxiety or depression but aren’t doing anything about it, this sends the wrong message to teens. Take care of yourself and learn not only to have compassion for your teen, but for yourself too.