The past year has constantly been described as “unprecedented.” Each month has brought more challenges, changes, and hardships. But it is not just adults who have had to deal with this. Our children are struggling more now than ever – COVID, isolation, social and racial turmoil, political unrest, economic instability, food insecurity… The list goes on and on. We don’t know how this experience is going to affect our children in the long run. Being aware of our children’s wellbeing is a critical part of helping them to navigate through this difficult time.
While children are often more resilient than we give them credit for, it is crucial to take the time to consider the trials that they have been facing and the additional support that they may need from us. They may be experiencing fear, anxiety, confusion, depression, or anger. This could be because they have been cut off from many of their normal support sources, as many children are still attending school entirely remotely and the necessity of distancing has kept them away from friends and loved ones. They have less access to trusted adults whom they feel comfortable talking to or who might notice that the child is distressed. This makes it even more important that we pay attention to our children’s emotions and be aware of indications that they need help.
Adolescent mental health is of particular concern. The changes in their brains that teens go through during adolescence increases the likelihood that they will experience anxiety and depression.This makes them even more vulnerable when living through the pandemic, economic struggles, and social turbulence. While teens can still stay connected to their peers virtually, they are missing out on many social interactions and milestone events or traditions. Many experts are also concerned that the loneliness and isolation that teens are experiencing right now may increase their risk of suicide. If you are concerned that someone is a danger to oneself, you should take immediate action to keep them safe and get help.
Childhood and adolescent anxiety and depression is nothing new. Just like with adults, their emotional wellbeing can be affected by family history, stressful life events, or even being on certain medications, all of which can lead to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. The number of children and adolescents struggling with their mental health has been increasing over the years, even prior to COVID. Although the exact cause of the increase in children and teens experiencing anxiety and depression is not known, there are many possible contributing factors. This includes the increased pressure to succeed, increased exposure to violence through media, and how social media is used as a way to validate self worth and can cause additional social pressure.
The warning signs of anxiety and depression can vary for each individual, especially when comparing children and adolescents. Some common behaviors that your child is experiencing anxiety or depression include:
- Being more irritable or easily annoyed than usual.
- Lashing out.
- Avoiding their friends.
- Sleeping too much or not sleeping enough
- Overeating or not eating enough.
- Not enjoying things they usually like
It can be difficult to determine the difference between the difference between feeling worried or down versus true anxiety or depression. If you are concerned, it is best to reach out to a psychologist and get an emotional assessment for your child. Knowing exactly what is going on with your child will help to treat your child’s specific needs.
Addressing your child’s depression or anxiety should be done through therapy. There are many different treatment methods for both depression and anxiety, and a psychologist will determine which methods would be best based on your child’s individual needs such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or interpersonal therapy. Therapy for younger children may involve play and storytelling, and the psychologist will also work with the parents to teach them strategies to help their child.
It is possible that medication may play a role in your child’s treatment plan. This is something that would need to be prescribed and monitored by a medical doctor, such as a child psychiatrist. While medication can be helpful, it should not be the sole method of treatments. Therapy can provide strategies for understanding and dealing with emotions in an age appropriate way.
As a parent, it can be difficult to know what is best for your child. You are not alone in dealing with this, and there are support and resources available for you as well. There are online support groups for parents whose children are experiencing mental health issues. By educating yourself about childhood and adolescent depression and anxiety, you can learn how to recognize it as well as strategies for preventing it and supporting your child through treatment.
The takeaway from all of this is that we need to recognize that children can struggle with their mental health, not just adults. The sooner that children start receiving treatment for it, the sooner that they can be on the road to recovery. Anxiety and depression are treatable for both children and adults, and there is no need to continue suffering. So reach out today and get your child the help they need.