Mental health has been a big concern for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than a month into the new school year, doctors are keeping an eye on teenagers and the difficulties they may be facing as the pandemic continues on.
"Students are still stressed about what's going to happen next, anxious about mixed information they may hear on the news, they may hear on social media, they may hear from their friends in school and they're just trying to figure out what’s going to happen and how long is this going to last and when are things going to get back to normal," says Dr. Christina Conolly, a school psychologist and member of the National Association of School Psychologists.
Dr. Conolly says some students are now grappling with anxiety and depression along with the added stress of school.
There could be lasting effects on some teenagers who have been isolated for so long.
"Potentially, I would say not just for teenagers, but for young children and adults, as well. We’ve not experienced an event like this since the pandemic in the early 1900s," says Dr. Conolly.
Mental health officials at schools are honing in on children and teens who might be vulnerable and in need of someone to talk to. Dr. Conolly says her school is even launching a new program centered on students' social and emotional wellbeing.
"In my school district, we have developed student well-being teams at all of our schools. We have referral forms for teachers to go and refer students who are in need of support. We’ve been doing what we call student psychoeducational lessons for all of our students pre-K through 12th grade," says Dr. Conolly.
Stress management and mental health is a priority for Parker Pediatrics and Adolescents in Colorado. Pediatrician Dr. Brian Stanga conducts mental health screenings with all patients when they come in for a check-up.
"We ask them about things like stress level, stress and then, if so, how many days a week are they feeling stressed? Is it greatly impacting their quality of life or not greatly impacting their quality of life," says Dr. Stanga.
The pediatric practice also has four child and adolescent psychologists on staff. In March, pediatrician visits were down 50% but psychologist visits remained at 100% of normal.
"One of our core mission statements is we believe in the whole child, whether physical, mental, and emotional health. It is all intertwined and that’s pretty clear from a lot of studies. If you're stressed, it elevates your heart rate, your blood pressure, all those things, which then affects your physical health," says Dr. Stanga.
So what can parents do to help guide their teens and younger children through this stressful time?
"Finding something that you all enjoy that you can do as a family. Talk with each other, have dinner with each other. I know some of these are things people hear and sound a little corny, but these are truly things that can help," says Dr. Conolly.
Dr. Conolly says educating parents about substance abuse and suicide prevention is also key right now. Ensuring students' mental needs are met and they have positive outlets to turn to when the world around them seems lost.