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Isolation-induced depression during COVID-19: Is your teen at risk?

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

Consequences of social isolation 

No one expected “quarantine” or “social distancing” to enter the world’s shared vocabulary in 2020. As our homes continue to act as the backdrop of everyday life, many parents have reported increased moodiness, listlessness, and irritability in their teens. The pandemic is taking an emotional toll on many young people.

This goes beyond “teens being teens”: a recent study conducted in the midst of COVID-19 shows that physical isolation increases the likelihood of a variety of psychological problems, including panic disorder, anxiety, and depression. These results are not unexpected, given that the risks of social isolation are well known. Being physically isolated from friends may contribute to negative feelings of loneliness and raise stress and anxiety levels in your teens. With this generation of teens already being the loneliest cohort in America - yes, even more so than the elderly - the impact of recent events may be particularly acute.

Here are some ways to minimize the risks associated with isolation-induced depression in your home.

Ways to minimize the risks of isolation-induced depression

1. Look for warning signs in your teen

Teens who need parental support for their stress management may not know how to communicate their needs. Tantrums and receiving the cold shoulder aren’t foreign to many parents. However, in these trying times, parents may need to pay extra attention to warning signs buried in these tantrums. While heightened stress is to be expected during this pandemic, look for these signs that may indicate stress is overwhelming your teen:

  • Your teen regularly has unusual mood swings (involving anger and hopelessness, for example)

  • Your teen no longer finds joy in activities they previously loved (e.g., texting friends, playing an instrument)

  • Your teen has a highly erratic sleep schedule (e.g., sleeping throughout the day, trouble sleeping well)

  • Your teen has a highly unusual appetite change

If any of these signs surface in your teen, it may be a good moment to practice empathy by gently asking them about their stress levels and exploring together ways you may support them.

2. Don’t dwell too much on COVID-19

While the media marches onwards with facts, rumors, and lies about the coronavirus, you and your teen don’t have to. Getting too caught up in the uncertainty of COVID-19 may lead to unnecessarily high anxiety levels. The simplest path forward may be to just set a hard limit on how long your teen can be on their phone, but actually, the best solution includes your own cooperation.

According to The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child, “Modeling is a very strong way to teach behavior, stronger than punishment…” As you spend more time with your teen, take advantage of the increased opportunities for you to model healthy media consumption. This could mean setting limits on how much to consume, taking detox breaks from the news, and making sure you don’t consume stress-inducing media before bed. These practices could result in good stress management not only for yourself, but also for your teen - which tends to be a positive cycle!

3. Structure well-being into your days

According to the Center for Disease Control, regularly engaging in self-care practices is a healthy coping mechanism for stressful situations. While this may mean different activities for different people, some common examples include video-chatting with those in your social support systems, be it friends or faith-based organizations. Some may find peace in meditation or regular exercise. Others find comfort in structure simply by eating three balanced meals throughout the day. Encourage these practices in your household and have open conversations about what each family member likes to do for self-care. Here are suggestions for family habits that increase your family’s focus on well-being:

  • Every morning at breakfast, ask your kids what they plan to do during the day to practice self-care.

  • Have everyone download the same meditation app, and do ten-minute group meditations after lunchtime.

  • Create a jar filled with post-it notes of self-care activities that everyone can do after dinnertime.

Resources to get help

Cherish has free COVID-19 resources for parents of teens in the form of personalized SMS coaching support and a parent group community. And, if you're interested in a personal parenting coach with Cherish, please sign up here!

If you find yourself struggling and in need of more urgent help, know that there are external resources for you to get help. (adapted from CDC's resource guide)

To get immediate help:

1. Call 911

2. Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 

3. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, or Lifeline Crisis Chat

To get access to a healthcare provider for substance use disorders or mental health-related problems: 

1. SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or TTY 1-800-487-4889

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