Teens are struggling. Suicide rates among young people are up. Therapists are stretched thin. Many teens receive formal supports at school yet most of those have been suspended. Others benefit from the social interaction at school and structure of the school day. Not anymore. And for many teens, participating in team sports provides socialization, confidence, and physical exercise. Most team sports are now on hold. A recent scholarly article outlines the impact of this sudden disruption to typical teen life:
- Chronic stress associated with the pandemic and the resulting social isolation may predispose young people to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in adulthood.
- Social isolation can lead to increased eating of comfort foods with resulting weight gain. The interruption of athletic activities limits age-appropriate outlets for physical activity and compounds the problem
- The loss of typical adolescent social interaction may interfere with adolescent brain development. Brain circuitry develops in response to social experiences. The impact of quarantining on the developing adolescent brain remains to be seen.
- Family life is strained for many. Parents are stressed and multiple family members are working and attending school from home. Domestic violence, child abuse and neglect are increasing.
- Playing outside is being replaced by playing indoors. This frequently results in increased screen time which has previously been associated with unhealthy eating and less physical exercise.
- Loss of loved ones to COVID-19 has resulted in grief and has interfered with funerals and other cultural rituals that aid in the grieving process.
We are facing a significant public health problem for adolescents as we continue to navigate the pandemic. It is very likely that COVID-19 will exacerbate existing vulnerabilities and the full impact is not yet known.
Teens need our attention, support and compassion now more than ever. Stay alert to the teens in your life, check in with them frequently, listen to their concerns, validate their emotions, and offer problem solving as appropriate. While everyone is under stress, the impact of this stress on the developing teen brain is real and significant.
Britt Rathbone, LCSW-C
 Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry 106 (2021) COVID-19 pandemic impact on children and adolescents’ mental health: Biological, environmental, and social factors.