Teen mental health continues to struggle in pandemic, returning to school tough transition

Teen mental health has continued to suffer amid the pandemic, and going back to school in person, while a welcome sign of normalcy for some, could be daunting for others, experts said in a virtual town hall event hosted by Harvard University.

“Entering the fall is going to be a really stressful time for young people because a number of kids have decided to continue remote learning, but when the fall comes, everyone for the most part will most likely go back to school,” said Dr. Christine Crawford, adult and child psychiatrist and associate medical director with the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Going back to school full time will likely bring up strong emotions for teens, Crawford said, and some may feel anxious or more depressed.

“When they’re in the classroom studying, there is a tendency to compare yourself to your peers around you,” Crawford said.

Jordyn Cabbell, a 16-year-old student at Sierra Vista High School in Nevada who joined Thursday’s call, said she began struggling with anxiety and depression in middle school.

“The pandemic affected my anxiety and depression even more because it really felt like I didn’t have a safe place to go,” Cabbell said.

“I really thought It was going to be the end of my life,” said Cabbell.

Marcus Hunter, a 17-year-old student from Minneapolis, said he started experiencing depression after the murder of George Floyd. “The place that I live is fear. Looking outside the window, fear of hearing different sounds around you,” Hunter said.

Daniel Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Health, said nationwide, there has been a sharp increase in the number of emergency room visits by people under 18 related to mental health concerns.

“It’s no secret our young people are not all right,” Gillison said.

Archana Basu, an instructor in psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said prevention and early intervention models can help struggling teens before it’s too late. Such efforts can include making digital mental health tools widely accessible and normalizing tough conversations with teens about what they’re going through, said Basu.

“Young people have kept the conversation alive. They have been advocates for themselves,” said Basu.

In Massachusetts, use of outpatient mental health services, including psychotherapy, increased nearly 20% during the pandemic, according to new claims data released Thursday from Blue Cross Blue Shield.

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