Is My Teen Ok? A Guide To Help Parents Identify Depression And Anxi

Family

Teens and young adults may initially appear to be doing fine, taking classes online, and enjoying more free time. That initial wave of elation though has been replaced with anxiety and depression for some teens, as they grapple with the ever-changing and uncertain new environment of COVID. For some teens COVID has “hijacked” important events, like seniors unable to attend prom or delayed/canceled graduation celebrations with family and friends.  These missed or adapted events can leave teens feeling isolated and result in a sense of hopelessness. They may experience feelings such as, their hard work is not paying off and wondering what the future holds for them now. College students embarking on their journey into young adulthood and enjoying their independence are abruptly being pulled back into the family home.  These students feel not only a loss of their social setting but also a loss of independence.  While every student is different, young college students face some similar challenges. Such as, how to manage life back in the family home without their friends and familiar campus life? 

 When should parents be concerned about their teen or young adult? This checklist can offer parents some guidelines in determining if their teen may need some professional counseling to help them manage their feelings related to COVID. 

Checklist of concerns for anxiety and depression with your teen or young adult: 

  • Lack of motivation: Feeling that they can’t get work done.  Tasks that they accomplished easily in the past are now either impossible or out of reach.
  • Poor concentration:  Activities that took a short amount of time to complete, are taking increasingly longer time to complete with added frustration.  
  • Forgetfulness: Having to repeat things previously your teen may have remembered easily.
  • Losing the desire to connect with friends: Either by video chat, texting, or phone.
  • Hopelessness: Feeling like there is nothing to look forward to.
  • Disrupted sleep: Sleeping too much or too little, or staying up very late and sleeping in until afternoon or later in the day.Lack of interest in activities that previously brought the teen pleasure such as reading, any physical activity, or engaging in family games.
  • Negative or pessimistic attitude: Such as the belief that things will never be normal or that they have lost so much, why bother? 
  •  Statements of despair: Such as wanting to sleep until this is over or comments like “is it worth it?” ( if your teen makes any statements about self-harm or suicide, immediately contact a professional and/or go to your nearest emergency room) 
  • Worries about the future: Teens may have repetitive worries about what will happen with the Coronavirus, they may appear preoccupied or “in their own head.” Your teen may be ruminating about “what if” scenarios, playing out the worst-case scenario. 
  • A sense of sadness:  Teens, like adults, have a sense of loss with the coronavirus. They believe that their lives have changed and it may not return back. Not experiencing laughter or pleasure is a sign of depression in your teen. 

How do I talk to my teen about COVID? 

Remember, some changes in mood are normal and to be expected with COVID.  These are unprecedented times of change and new paradigms. The degree and intensity of the symptoms above are important indicators of concern. Having several of these symptoms, is an indication to seek the outside help of a trained and Licensed Counselor.  

So how do you talk to your teen about how they are doing? The first step is talking to your teen about some of the changes you may be noticing, and asking them how they feel about the changes that are happening in their lives. Often times parents think by watching the news together or sharing how it affects their life, that they are talking to their teen and getting a sense of how they are feeling.  However, that may not be the case. Being direct and asking how your teen feels about COVID and the specific changes it has brought to their lives, will yield a more honest conversation. Be open and reflect back what you are hearing from your teen.  Paraphrasing or repeating their exact words allows them to understand that you have heard them. Understanding and acknowledging their feelings is an important step. This will let your teen know that they have been heard and you will listen to their perspective without judgment. 

 Often, parents are struggling with their own intense feelings and may send the message that their problems are more important than the children’s problems. For example if one parent is worried about losing their job.  This may have the effect of shutting down communication, as the teen may feel bad sharing that they are struggling. 

Some resources that can help your family if you believe your teen or young adult is struggling with depression or anxiety are: 

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK or text TALK to 38255
IamAlive: www.iamalive.org ( online crisis network)
24 hour Crisis Walk-in Locations:  Denver ( 4353 W. Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80220, Boulder (3180 Airport Rd., Boulder, CO 80301)
Community Mental Health Partners: Mental Health Centers of Denver ( 303) 504-6500

The rapid changes and uncertainty with COVID can cause some teens who already were struggling, to show an increase in symptoms. And teens who seemingly appear to be fine may feel increased sadness and fear about the current environment and their future. Parents, checking in often and reaching out for professional help if needed, will help your teen feel supported and understood. I offer counseling services for families and teens at www.monicaramundatherapy.com. Reach out for help if needed. 

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Monica Ramunda, MA, LPC, LCMHC, RPT-S is a Licensed Counselor in both Colorado and North Carolina and a Registered Play Therapist Supervisor. She offers online therapy/teletherapy, and in-person sessions for clients. She works with teens and young adults and offers parenting support. Reach out if you need support during these challenging times.