Yet the fact that the pandemic is a shared experience for everyone provides behavioral health experts with an opportunity to help patients understand that they are not alone in dealing with its emotional impact.
The three big factors that have an impact on mental health right now are change, fear, and grief or loss,” says Michelle Reuben, MEd, LPC, ACS, Clinical Manager of the Child and Adolescent Program at Penn Medicine Princeton House Behavioral Health’s North Brunswick outpatient site. “It’s a unique time in our lives in that everyone is experiencing all three of these things at the same time.”
“This shared experience means there’s a great opportunity for validation,” she adds. “As a therapist, I can really relate to what my patients are going through.”
Change and fear will continue to be factors as teens face a new school year filled with unknowns. Grief and loss take many shapes—from the death of a loved one and the lack of traditional grieving processes, to the more simple losses of the ability to meet friends at the movie theater, play fall sports, or enter the momentous senior year in a way that was expected.
In addition to an increased incidence of issues like anxiety and depression, rebellious behavior can become more prominent, such as sneaking out to parties with large groups of friends. When addressing situations like these, Reuben recommends the following tips for behavioral health providers working with teens:
- Frame your efforts around parental involvement and validation of the current challenges teens are facing.
- Pair this with an honest discussion of the pros and cons of ineffective behaviors.
- Help parents and teens consider a creative middle path that maintains safety but satisfies emotional needs. Otherwise, when teens constantly hear no, they push back more.
- Create a toolbox that can help teens move from “emotion mind” to “wise mind.” This might include mindfulness practices like using calming apps or quiet time to regain composure.
- Practice cope-ahead strategies. Walking through various scenarios of what the school year might look like can reduce anxiety and fear of the unknown.
- Help teens focus on gratitude, positive thinking, and goal-setting, which can help them face continuing uncertainty.
“All of these strategies can build resiliency and be used to foster mental well-being throughout life,” says Reuben. “If we can conquer the challenges of this unprecedented time, we can conquer anything.”
Setting Up Structure
“Structure is so important for adolescents during this uncertain time,” adds Madhurani Khare, MD, Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Princeton House. “For example, many teens have been staying up into the night and sleeping during the day, which disrupts the natural release of melatonin and adds to depression and anxiety. Parents need to be mindful that their teens are maintaining healthy sleep, eating, and exercise routines.”
For more information about adolescent services, visit princetonhouse.org or call 888.437.1610.
Article as seen in the Fall 2020 issue of Princeton House Behavioral Health Today.