In this two-part series, we’ll be discussing teen and youth mental health challenges. This article covers many of the hard, sad facts as well as some of the common challenges our teens and youth face. While this may be hard, you may find hope in knowing that in part two, we’ll cover some of the hope-giving, health-restoring solutions we’ve used and seen tremendous clinical results with.
In recent years, there has been a surge in mental health concerns, especially when it comes to our youth. During the years 2020 and 2021, when the COVID pandemic and related policies were affecting daily life for many, the numbers soared.
Teen girls are seeing the highest numbers when it comes to suicide attempts:
Emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls between the ages of 12 and 17 increased by 26% during summer 2020 and by 50% during winter 2021, compared with the same periods in 2019, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. However, ER trips related to suspected suicide attempts among boys that same age and young adults aged 18 to 25 remained stable during the pandemic.
While more teen girls are attempting suicide, more teen boys are successful when they do attempt to take their lives.
Some New, Uncharted Challenges
One answer may stand out, especially during these past two years, could be the COVID policies. While this certainly may be a very large factor, there are several factors we need to consider.
The teen years are ones filled with ups and downs as this turbulent season is navigated by both youth and parents. Today’s youth face some unique challenges their parents didn’t: from social media and cyber bullying, to virtual classes due to school closings, and the painful reality of social distancing and the isolation it caused. We can see just how much social interaction impacts mental health, especially during the youth and teen years.
Some of the Same Old Challenges
Teen years have become synonymous with angst and dissention between parent and teen. But does it have to be this way? Many adolescents are working hard to navigate this challenging, changing time of life. Not only are they preparing for the new independence that lies just a few years ahead, but their bodies are also changing so rapidly, they may not be able to articulate what they are feeling. This paradox often leads to an imposter syndrome feel as they start to look and act like adults, but at times, still very much feel like the child they were just a few brief years before.
For some of those teens, the hormones that are shifting and surging are truly wreaking havoc and causing more upheaval than necessary. Hormones can become imbalanced for a number of reasons during this time of life. Quite obviously, puberty itself can do it. But other factors also contribute. When we consider the diet of the average teen and their sleep patterns, more and more pitfalls become clear.
Keeping a Finger on the Pulse of Your Teen’s Mental Health
Parents care for their children today as much as ever. However, some of the struggles for both parents and teens are new, and some of the same old challenges have new light shed on them. From busy, overworked schedules, to new social situations based on local politics, to social media influences, sometimes it’s hard to miss the cues or read when cues have changed. Below is a list of common behaviors to watch for.
According to the American Psychological Association, some of the warning signs of teen suicide include:
- Talks about committing suicide
- Has trouble eating or sleeping
- Exhibits drastic changes in behavior
- Withdraws from friends or social activities
- Loses interest in school, work, or hobbies
- Prepares for death by writing a will and making final arrangements
- Gives away prized possessions
- Has attempted suicide before
- Takes unnecessary risks
- Has recently experienced serious losses
- Seems preoccupied with death and dying
- Loses interest in his or her personal appearance
- Increases alcohol or drug use.
One thing professionals and other parents who’ve navigated this bumpy road agree on, is to keep the lines of communication open. While many teens seem to pull away, listening with a non-judgmental ear will keep them coming back to share and help them open up. This may take some time to build as a new habit. When this door of communication is open, some of the tools we will share in part two of this series will be much more successful.
At The Wellness Way, we recognize the increase in mental health challenges, especially among teens. We’ve developed a system that allows us to understand what could be triggering some of the symptoms, behaviors, and consequences stemming from mental illness. The gut brain connection has been studied around the world, including Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
“The take-home message in everything we study is the arrow goes both ways,” says Glenn J. Treisman, MD, PhD, the Eugene Meyer III Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “The brain affects your gut. The gut affects your brain. The microbiome affects your gut, which affects your brain. The brain affects your gut, which affects your microbiome.”
Disruptions to the gut microbiome, say by infection or a change in diet, can trigger reactions in the body that may affect psychological, behavioral, and neurological health. For example, reactions such as the overproduction of inflammatory cytokines or slowed production of neuroactive metabolites have been implicated in depression.”
This is good news. This is turf we are familiar with and have helped many people navigate. Once again, one of the biggest answers comes down to managing inflammation and overall gut health. Through a series of tests, we are able to get a clearer picture of what is happening in the gut, where the breakdown of healthy neurotransmitters may be, what may be triggering inflammation, and how to manage those challenges to restore health. Mental and physical.
To start your journey, or help a teen you love start theirs, reach out to a Wellness Way clinic. There’s hope. We can help uncover the root cause of illness and support the body and mind’s natural healing.