COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured Youth mental health

How to support young people during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Written by Jennifer Palisoc

During the COVID-19 pandemic, teenagers and young people are having to adapt to a great deal of change; not being in school, staying at home, physically distancing from friends, and missing milestones such as prom or graduation.

“Young people are experiencing a range of emotions including frustration, stress, anger, and anxiety,” says Dr. Amy Cheung, youth psychiatrist. “It is normal to feel many emotions throughout the pandemic, which is a complicated and uncertain time for everyone.”

Coping with fear or anxiety

When teens are feeling fear, worry or anxiety, it is important that they reach out for help.  These are challenging times and some teens may be finding it more difficult to cope throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Teens can talk to caring adults or reach out to virtual walk-in counselling,” explains Dr. Cheung. “Just having a conversation about how a teen is feeling is a good start.”

If a teenager is already managing a mental illness and their treatment requires medication, Dr. Cheung says keeping their schedule is key to their health and well-being, “During this stressful time making sure they are taking their medication and seeing their health care providers regularly is very important – especially as the pandemic continues.”

It is also important to keep up with a regular routine to help bring some normalcy to the day. Having a routine can help people feel as that they have some control in this uncertain time.

Ensuring teens keep up with proper hygiene can help their mental health. Changing into regular clothes daily, rather than staying in pyjamas can help give them a sense of purpose and meaning.

“Self-care such as good diet, exercise, and a regular sleep routine are also important,” adds Dr. Cheung. “Relaxation and mindfulness strategies can be helpful as well.”

While staying current with news headlines is important, taking breaks by incorporating strategies for managing information overload can benefit the whole family and help reduce stress.

Signs a teen may be having a difficult time

Teenagers are grappling with a lot these days. There may be more outbursts, or a teen may be more withdrawn. There are some signs parents can keep an eye out for that may signal a teen is having a more difficult time managing changes day-to-day.

“Parents should watch for signs of poor emotional health such as crying, sadness, panic symptoms, poor sleep, appetite or fatigue,” says Dr. Cheung, “A teen may also express they have physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach aches.”

The pandemic may be intensifying existing mental health and addiction issues a young person may already be dealing with and trying to manage.

What can parents do to support their child?

Experts encourage parents to be open, honest and calm when addressing any issues. Most importantly, listen. Is a teen upset about COVID-19 itself or is there something else going on?

“Parents can listen to their teen to see what their concerns are,” says Dr. Cheung.  “It’s not always easy to know or explain what the issue is, I find many teens are not anxious about getting sick but stressed about school being online or missing their friends or about money.”

These aren’t always easy conversations to have but there are tips to help parents talk to their children about mental health and experts say it is especially important for parents to start the conversations, as teens may not want to confide in parents worried about disappointing them, and sometimes, it’s just tough to talk about needing help with mental health.

“Parents can also assess virtual walk in counselling to help their kids,” says Dr. Cheung. “Most pediatricians are also available by virtual appointments which can be scheduled online or on the phone.”

Other tips for families to support young people dealing with mental health and/or addiction concerns from Sunnybrook’s Family Navigation Project:

  • Acknowledge and validate that this is a hard time for everyone and that the additional stress can exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions.
  • Take things day-by-day, give yourself permission to know that we are all managing more challenges than usual.
  • Notice what you’re feeling, take time to acknowledge the feeling, take some deep breaths and “step away” from the feelings to find a sense of calm in your day.
  • Seek support from health care professionals, support services, other community resources, as well as family and friends.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a challenging time for everyone. The Family Navigation Project is still here to help

For more resources and information about COVID-19 from Sunnybrook experts read our blog.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or in severe emotional distress, please call 911 or visit your local emergency department.

If you feel like you are in crisis or need somebody to talk to, community resources are here to help.

Crisis Services Canada

  • 1-833-456-4566 (24 hours, 7 days a week toll-free)
  • Text: 45645 (4 p.m. – midnight ET)

Kids Help Phone

  • 1 800 668 6868 (voice)
  • Text: 686868 (24 hours, 7 days a week)

ConnexOntario: Addiction, Mental Health, and Problem Gambling Treatment Services in Ontario

  • 1-866-531-2600 (24 hours, 7 days a week)

Mental Health T.O. Virtual Mental Health Counselling

  • 1-866-585-6486 (Monday – Friday 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. ET)

Toronto Distress Centre

  • 416-408-HELP (4357), (24 hours, 7 days a week)

About the author

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Jennifer Palisoc

Jennifer Palisoc is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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