For many young people, the pandemic has been an especially challenging time. Changes in school schedules, a separation from peers and high stress levels have contributed to what is becoming a crisis among children and youth. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 25% of high school students reported worsened mental health after the start of the pandemic. More recent studies show that only a third of high school-aged respondents are capable of managing stress. For LGBTQ youth, children of color, and kids from low income families, the risk of poor mental health is greater. Well over a year later, kids are still grappling with unprecedented changes to their daily life. In order to support young people, parents, teachers and youth leaders should be cognizant of the struggles they are facing.
Foster Open Communication
Oftentimes, young people feel unheard. When dealing with complex emotions, they may shut down or retreat into an internal world. Furthermore, they may feel like they are unable to express themselves or communicate freely. This is why it’s so important to check in with the young people in your life daily. Start with questions related to things they enjoy. What do they like to do, what are their favorite things? When they do start talking, listen to what they say before chiming in. Let them know that you value their perspective. When young people feel comfortable and welcome in a trusted environment, they will usually open up. If they feel like they can speak about their struggles, that’s a positive first step.
With social distancing, remote learning, and the rise of social media, young people have become incredibly isolated. Increased feelings of loneliness can contribute to poor mental health over time. If you are a parent, be aware of how much time your child spends alone. Spend valuable time with them, encourage their friendships, and suggest participation in extracurricular activities. It’s a fact: as humans, we are social creatures. We need to interact and engage. For young people, this is a crucial time to develop strong relationships. If kids feel like they have a support system or even just a small group of people they can confide in, it will boost their mental health.
Encourage, Don’t Criticize
It’s imperative for young people to know their emotions are valid. If we choose to criticize rather than inspire, kids may withdraw or experience feelings of dejection. If they show an interest in an activity or hobby, buoy that interest. Focusing on something positive outside of school, work and family life is hugely beneficial. Most importantly, be patient with the young person in your life and speak to them about the things that are out of their control. Let them know that zeroing in on the things they can do is the best way to move forward. Additionally, assisting them in reaching their goals is a great way to build confidence.
Know When to Get Help
If you notice concerning changes in a young person’s behavior or they express any thoughts of suicide, it’s time to reach out for help. Even if things don’t seem this dire, seeking support may be necessary. 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any treatment. As much as you love and care about the young person in your life, they may need additional help to overcome their pain. Find a local health care professional, contact the Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline at 800-422-0009 or contact us for further resources.
Learn More about Youth Mental Health with Lead4Life, Inc.
Looking for other ways you can support youth mental health? Visit our website for more information or contact us at 240-499-8949. At Lead4Life, we strive to empower every participant in our programs so that they may find their purpose, achieve their goals, and become poised, productive members of their community. We advocate for those in need and assist each and every individual by providing compassionate education and valuable resources and tools so that they can make the very best decisions and develop important life, social, and competency skills.