In early February there was a horrific incident involving OWN TV Host’s 16 year-old son. The boy suffered an accidental overdose taking Xanax, which turned out to be laced with Fentanyl. Among the many reasons it was shocking was that the teen overdosed on the drug without leaving the house, as it was delivered to him online through a dealer he met on Snapchat.
Though the spring is bringing better weather, more freedom, and better moods, it’s worth revisiting the lessons from this tragedy in remembering that though the pandemic is (hopefully!) winding to a close, that the effects on the mental health of our youth with last for years. According to a recent Harris/National 4H Poll a stunning 55% of teens have experienced anxiety as a result of the pandemic, 45% excessive stress, 43% depression, and 61% increased feelings of loneliness. (The poll also reported that teens surveyed spent an average of 75% of their waking hours on a screen.)
Supporting teens and young adults through the anxiety and depression is critical, especially in this transitionary time. Knowing the tell-tale signs of depression, such as changes in sleep patterns, lethargy and increased apathy, is key to identifying a problem and intervening to avoid tragic results. Anxiety can often be subtle, but no less damaging. It can sometimes manifest in unexpected ways like decreasing grades, difficulty concentrating, or feeling an impending sense of doom. Frequently teens and young adults will do everything they can to hide these symptoms, so it’s important to be vigilant even while respecting their autonomy when everything is “fine.”
The other really important lesson to be gleaned from this is that while social media has some merits in connectivity, it’s definitely got some huge risks for our kids. Monitoring your teen’s interaction there, again, while maintaining a healthy respect for their autonomy, is critical. It’s probably better to be ‘the bad guy,’ and prevent exposure to harmful influences than be oblivious and leave them to their devices, but I do recognize that it’s a fine line to walk.
If you have concerns, like I do, about walking that line of a healthy distance and caution for their welfare, I would recommend looking into obtaining the resources of a ‘mentor,’ ‘coach’ or ‘tutor,’ who the kid can trust. You want someone who doesn’t come with the inevitable weight of a parental relationship, someone they can speak to about these issues and reveal these things to who will keep them safe and help them make the right choices.
Our continued vigilance as things open up and we return to warmer weather and begin to start over has never been more key. It will be all the easier to miss subtle signs of trouble, particularly mental health challenges, as the sun brightens and the summer begins. I wish you all the best in a return to a safe and healthy new normal.