Pandemic has negatively impacted teens’ mental health, says National Poll

Parents who note negative changes in their teens' mental health have tried different strategies to help their teen, the Mott Poll suggests

Michigan: For teens, pandemic restrictions resulted in restrictions included months of virtual school, less time with friends and cancelling activities like sports, band concerts, for the ones who rely on social connections for emotional support, the COVID-19 induced lockdown may have taken a heavy toll on mental health, a new national poll suggests.

Forty-six per cent of parents say their teen has shown signs of a new or worsening mental health condition since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine.

Parents of teen girls were more likely to say their child had a new onset or worsening of depressive symptoms and anxiety than parents of teen boys.
“Just as young people are at the age of being biologically primed to seek independence from their families, COVID-19 precautions have kept them at home,” says poll co-director and Mott paediatrician Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H.

“Pandemic-related lifestyle changes have wreaked havoc on teens’ lives, with many experiencing disruptions to their normal routines. Our poll suggests that pandemic-era changes may have had a significant mental health impact for some teenagers.”

The nationally representative report is based on responses from 977 parents of teens ages 13-18.

One in three teen girls and one in five teen boys have experienced new or worsening anxiety, the poll suggests. More parents of teen girls than parents of teen boys note an increase in anxiety/worry (36 per cent vs. 19 per cent ) or depression/sadness (31 per cent vs. 18 per cent).

But similar proportions of parents report negative changes in their teen’s sleep (24 per cent for girls vs. 21 per cent for boys), withdrawing from family (14 per cent vs. 13 per cent ) and aggressive behaviour (8 per cent vs. 9 per cent ).

Recent research has shown teen depression during the pandemic to be associated with teens’ own fears and uncertainties, as well as high levels of parental stress, Freed notes.

“Isolation during the pandemic may be triggering new problems for some teens but for others, the situation has exacerbated existing emotional health issues,” Freed says.

Parents in the poll say their kids seem hardest hit by changes in social interactions over the last year, with three in four reporting a negative impact on their teen’s connections to friends.

Many parents say their teens have been texting (64 per cent ), using social media (56 per cent ), online gaming (43 per cent ), and talking on the phone (35 per cent ) every day or almost every day. Few parents say their teens have been getting together in person with friends daily or almost every day, indoors (9 per cent ) or outdoors (6 per cent ).

“Peer groups and social interactions are a critical part of development during adolescence. But these opportunities have been limited during the pandemic,” Freed says. “Many teens may feel frustrated, anxious and disconnected due to social distancing and missing usual social outlets, like sports, extracurricular activities and hanging out with friends.”

Parents who note negative changes in their teens’ mental health have tried different strategies to help their teen, the Mott Poll suggests, including relaxing COVID-19 rules and family rules on social media, seeking professional help and even using mental health apps.

“Parents play a critical role in helping their teens cope with the stress of the pandemic,” Freed says. “There are strategies parents can engage to help, whether or not their teen is showing signs of problems. One of the most important things for parents to do is keep lines of communication open; ask their teen how they are doing and create the space for them to speak honestly so they can provide help when needed.”

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