Young people are in crisis – and teen girls are particularly at risk. A recent U.S. Centers for Prevention and Disease Control report found nearly three in five teen girls felt persistently sad in 2021 – double the rate of teen boys.
Additionally, one in three girls seriously considered attempting suicide. Rates of sadness are among the highest reported in a decade, showing the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on this generation. For teens, the pandemic interrupted their lives during a time when regularity and consistency matter – and they were isolated from their peers. Without the social support systems that teens lean on to process their feelings and emotions, many spiraled into depression.
In our communities, it’s important to recognize how deeply affected teens still are by the pandemic – and ensure we are supporting them as they learn, grow and transition into adulthood. The isolation of the pandemic is just one factor affecting the mental health of teen girls. Here are some additional issues that were all exacerbated by the pandemic.
Impact of social media
Adolescents and teens are spending more time on social media than ever – although these apps were not designed with children in mind. It can also be too easy for a young person to find misinformation or inappropriate content – or to interact with anonymous users with predatory intentions. Today’s teens may spend up to nine hours a day in front of a screen.
Studies have found that those who attempt to compensate for a lack of physical social space through social media networking activities can develop negative emotions including depression, insecurity, isolation and alienation. Additionally, the mentally rewarding nature of retweets, “likes” and shares on social media platforms often leaves users craving more.
However, a recent survey found that only 34% of teens liked using social media “a lot” – so there may be signs that teens are also looking for a break from these distractions.
Body dysmorphic disorder
This is a body-image disorder that most often develops in adolescents and teens and can affect boys and girls. It’s a type of anxiety disorder that can cause individuals to think about their flaws –whether real or perceived – for hours out of the day. Negative thoughts about their image are intrusive and constant – and can cause interruptions to daily activities and severe emotional distress.
Today’s teens are particularly at risk for this type of anxiety, as the pervasiveness of social media is closely tied to their feelings of self-worth. Teens generally consider enhancing their appearance on social media to be an important vehicle for achieving popularity online. When they feel like they fail to measure up to the “ideal” body image, negative feelings and anxiety may influence the desire to alter one’s appearance.
Feeding and eating disorders
Rates of feeding and eating disorders – especially among teenagers – skyrocketed during the pandemic. Feeding and eating disorders are biologically-based illnesses, and some people are genetically predisposed. Signs of feeding and eating disorders can be emotional and behavioral. Some of the most common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Talk with a primary care provider about concerns to get an individual the help they need.
Anxiety and depression
Rates of mental health crises among adolescents and teens also increased during the pandemic. Teens often exhibit symptoms of worsening mental health that parents should be on the lookout for, including avoiding friends and activities, changes in eating or sleeping habits, changes in school performance, excessive worry or anxiety, frequent nightmares, disobedience or aggression, substance use and hyperactive behavior.
Helping children and teens
As teens are still growing, they likely do not have the same emotional coping skills that adults possess to be able to process and understand what they’re feeling, and to know what to do about it.
Building strong, mentally resilient children and teenagers takes the support of a community: families, parents and caregivers; schools and extracurricular programs, and health care professionals.
- Normalize talking at home: For teens to approach the adults in their lives about troubling feelings and big problems, it’s important to regularly check in about the day-to-day small stuff. Simply making time for regular chats is an important way to stay connected. Listen without judgement. Being observant about a teen’s everyday mood can help parents more quickly identify when a teen is feeling sad, mad or lonely.
- Talk to a primary care provider: They can evaluate the child to determine if any physical issues could be contributing to poor mental health or recommend further treatment from a mental health provider.
- Talk to the school: Public schools may have resources available to help students if their mental health is interfering with their academic or social life. Parents and guardians can request an evaluation of their child and potentially develop an individualized education plan.
If there’s any immediate concern about suicide, seek help by calling emergency services or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Kristyn Gregory, D.O., is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network can help members find an in-network mental health professional by calling behavioral health access lines listed below:
PPO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-762-2382
- A free and confidential resource that’s just a call away when you need immediate support. Behavioral health professionals answer, 24/7.
HMO: Behavioral Health Access Line | 1-800-482-5982
- Connect with a behavioral health clinician if you need help finding a mental health or substance use provider.
Behavioral health clinicians are available for routine assistance from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For urgent concerns after hours, clinicians are also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Learn more about mental health and options you have as a member to seek help at bcbsm.com/mentalhealth.