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How To Spot Mental Illness in Teens During a Pandemic

How To Spot Mental Illness in Teens During a Pandemic

As a parent of a teenager, I try to be as perceptive as possible when it comes to changes in my daughter’s behavior. I know that if I miss something, I could be ignoring a potentially serious mental illness, which could have deadly consequences.

So when the pandemic started, I made sure to be extra vigilant. After all, the isolation has hurt everyone’s mental health.

I wasn’t surprised when I started noticing the changes in the world impacting my child. She wasn’t interested in the things she used to enjoy. She no longer practiced art and music. She didn’t want to spend time with her friends.

She hardly left the house. She spent the majority of her time locked away in her room, usually sleeping. But all of us have been staying home more than usual.

When she finally did make appearances outside of her room, she would be irritable and have a short temper.

When online school started, I noticed she put less and less effort into her schoolwork, which used to be important to her.

None of her behavior was making sense, and all of it set off a red flag in my mind. Even with the impact of the pandemic, something wasn’t right. 

I tried to check in, to offer solutions, and to be there just to listen. None of it worked. I knew the best course of action was to get a professional involved before things worsened.

It was then that I discovered that the stress caused by the coronavirus can worsen mental health conditions. In my daughter’s case, it was worsening her depression.

Mental Illness and Teens During the Coronavirus

Even before the pandemic, mental illness was common for teens. In Kentucky alone, from 2013-2014, 9.3% of all teenagers between the ages of 12 to 17 had one or more major depressive episodes (MDE) within the past year.

As a novel virus, the coronavirus has been known to cause stress. The coronavirus, quarantine, and social distancing can cause

  • Loneliness
  • Worrying about your health
  • Job loss
  • Changes in sleep patterns and concentration levels
  • Worsening of mental illnesses

How To Spot Mental Illness in Teens During a Pandemic

So what does this mean for our teenagers? It means that they’re separated from their friends, sports, extracurriculars, and school. Their whole lives are essentially turned upside down.

Now they have to learn how to cope with remote learning without being able to see their friends or do the activities they love. They have to manage their own time and workload, all while being in front of a screen all day. Even before the pandemic, teenagers aren’t the best self-motivators and usually need oversight and direction.

They’re isolated during a time of already having to deal with hormones and puberty. Both the pandemic and being a teenager are known to cause stress.

With all of these things combined, it’s normal for parents to be concerned. It’s also harder to be able to decipher whether the changes they’re noticing in their teen’s behaviors are normal responses to the pandemic or something deeper and more serious: a mental illness.

Is My Teen’s Behavior Considered Normal?

So how can we tell what’s normal? We can start by understanding what isn’t. Abnormal behavior includes

  • Sleeping all day, routinely not getting up for school, having trouble sleeping altogether, or requiring 11-plus hours of sleep
  • Inability to control anger or when irritability turns into violence
  • Constantly worrying about grades yet not being able to study, apathy towards school, or abrupt changes in grades
  • Breaking laws or disciplinary action at school
  • Covering up risky behaviors

Unfortunately, the pandemic has introduced a gray area into what used to be considered concerning behavior but is now normal. A prime example of this is staying home and isolating from friends, hobbies, and activities. Staying home might mean more sleep or general boredom.

What else can be considered normal during this time? Examples include

  • Staying up late and sleeping in
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Not wanting to do homework
  • Testing boundaries and rules

If you notice any signs of abnormal behavior, it could be indicative of a mental health issue. However, that doesn’t mean that your teen has always had one. Mental health issues can be brought on organically by temporary stressors, which there are plenty of during this time. 

As a Parent, What Can I Do? When Is it Time To Involve a Professional?

We should always be fostering open communication with our teenagers. It’s ok—and actually encouraged—to talk about things like peer pressure and mental health.

If you notice any abnormal behavior, it’s time to talk to your teen. A good first step is sitting down with them. Explain what you’ve noticed without judgment and express concern.

Ask them how you can help, or invite them to talk openly about anything that’s bothering them or is on their mind. Don’t let your fear turn the conversation into an unproductive one. Hear them out without overreacting.

If you ever feel as though you’re too overwhelmed or don’t know what to do, it’s time to get a professional involved.

How To Spot Mental Illness in Teens During a Pandemic

If you’ve tried to calmly sit down with your teenager, offered to help, and invited them to open up but nothing seems to help, it’s time to get a professional involved. 

If you simply find yourself being unable to tell if a certain behavior is normal or not, it’s time to get a professional involved. It’s never a bad idea, it can only help, and it could even go as far as saving your teen’s life.

But who should you reach out to? Ideally, a behavioral health center or therapist, as they are considered experts in the field. 

However, you could also talk to your teen’s pediatrician or school counselor for recommendations or options.

During the pandemic, telehealth has become widely used and is a convenient option because it makes connecting with a program or professional easier and more accessible.

At SUN Behavioral Health in Kentucky, our psychiatrists, Master’s-level therapists, and nurses are ready to provide your teen with effective treatment options. To get started, call us at 859-429-5188 to schedule the virtual assessment and telehealth intake process for our Child & Adolescent Programs

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