The Coronavirus and quarantine are difficult on everyone and are scaring a lot of people. Besides learning how the virus works and is spread, we have learned that it impacts people’s mental health and so does the quarantine. The quarantine has exacerbated symptoms in people dealing with various mental health issues and has made many people depressed or anxious who are under quarantine. When you think about the situation, it is no big surprise that people are becoming depressed or anxious. However, one age group is at a higher risk for mental health issues due to the quarantine and that group are teenagers.
Teenagers are use to feeling in control of the environment. When they do not feel in control it can cause mental health issues. The quarantine is taking away their sense of control. Furthermore, we have no specific answers to give teenagers. This creates anxiety and exacerbates anxiety in teenagers who already suffer from anxiety. At this age teenagers have a very difficult time tolerating uncertainty. Remember, the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is responsible for reasoning skills is not fully developed in teenagers yet. Therefore, they are more likely to act impulsively rather than try to reason out a healthy way for them to tolerate what they are feeling.
Before the virus, depression, anxiety, cutting, vaping and suicide were at epidemic rates for children 10 years old to 18 years old. Since the quarantine, the rates have naturally increased. Every teen I deal with is feeling helpless, depressed and anxious. They are asking for answers when they can resume their normal lives. They are even asking when they can return to school. This is not a question you expect from most kids or teenagers. Usually, they want to know when the next school holiday is going to occur. By asking to return to school this is a definite indication that children and teenagers are desperate to resume their normal lives.
Since they cannot resume their normal lives this is putting teenagers who have mental health issues and other teenagers at engaging in risky behavior so they feel in control and normal. One behavior to watch for is cutting. This is when a teenager uses a knife, scissors, paperclips or even erasers to cut or scratch themselves. The wrist is a typical place to cut but teens also cut their stomachs, legs and inside of their thighs. These areas are less noticeable. If your teenager is spending a great deal of time in their room and you are noticing attitude changes and evasive answers about what they are doing, they may be cutting.
Another behavior they may be resorting to is vaping. This is particularly dangerous because their is a pneumonia which is attacking kids who are vaping and we don’t have a cure for it yet. The virus also attacks the lungs. Therefore, if a teenager is vaping and develops the pneumonia associated with vaping and contract the virus, the combination most likely would be deadly. Again teenagers spending a great deal of time in there rooms with the window slightly open could be a sign of vaping.
Another possible issue is the common one of drinking alcohol. They may have a stash in their room or they may be stealing it from the house. Most parents should be able to spot the signs of a teenager who has had too much to drink.
Finally, any teenager who has mental health issues could be regressing to old behaviors. Therefore, they may becoming suicidal or those with eating disorders could be purging again. If your teen has regressed or has developed new behaviors, approach them with an empathetic mood. They are regressing because they are afraid and feel out of control. If you make them feel guilty, they will regress more. At this time they need your support and to feel that someone is in control of the situation.
These are a few examples of how the virus and quarantine can impact children and teenagers at this time. We know the quarantine can exacerbate existing issues or create new ones. Also for those who do contract the virus research is showing there is a mental health component. Bottom line, if you feel your child or teenager has regressed to old behaviors or they have developed new behaviors seek professional help immediately. Some psychotherapy offices are open for sessions in the office or many therapists are doing video sessions. Research is showing that video sessions are effective and if your teenager is cutting you cannot wait until the quarantine is lifted. Interview the therapist throughly but get your teenager into therapy as soon as you can.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children, teenagers and victims of trauma such as rape or earthquakes. For more information regarding Dr. Rubino please visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.