OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As surging coronavirus cases prompt extended virtual learning throughout Oklahoma, mental health experts report adolescents and teens are experiencing higher than normal depression or feelings of self-harm.
“I did not expect to see teenagers, especially older teenagers, suffer so much like how I’ve seen,” said Oklahoma City-based licensed professional counselor Katie Evans.
Since the pandemic began, she and her peers have seen a sharp increase in depression in adolescents and teens.
“We all have gotten so many referrals the past few months,” Evans said. “There are so many people who are wanting services right now, it’s so hard to find someone with an opening.”
They’re finding young people are suffering from a general sense of instability this year, including the political and social climate, and especially due to coronavirus. The pandemic is particularly difficult for young people because of what Rebecca Hubbard with Mental Health Association Oklahoma called “systematic” isolation during a significant phase of development.
“Peers are who they look to to develop their identity, to create connection to others, to figure out where they stand in the world,” Hubbard said.
One thing Evans found surprising was just how difficult virtual learning has been, leaving many students feeling lost, frustrated and helpless.
“I would say that’s one of the biggest things that’s affecting them right now,” Evans said. “They feel like they can’t reach out to their teachers or if they do it’s harder.”
A September report by Mental Health America found more than half of kids surveyed had thoughts of suicide or self-harm. It also noted that 11 to 17-year-olds had been more likely than any other age group to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic.
“Sometimes its not even that they want to die that I’ve seen,” Evans said. “It’s more like just having the thoughts of, ‘Oh, it would be so much easier if I wasn’t here, or I can’t handle this.’”
Hubbard listed some warning signs to look for in kids and teens that might indicate their mental health is suffering.
“Maybe they’re not getting out of bed, they’re not motivated, they’re isolating even more than just social isolation for the pandemic,” Hubbard said. “Or it can be that they’re really irritable and short-tempered suddenly, or it could be that they just seem overwhelmed and maybe weepy.”
Experts recommend being proactive in talking to kids about how they are feeling about things.
“You have to ask how they’re doing because a lot of teens come to me and say, ‘No one cares; it feels like no one is thinking of me,’” Evans said.
Hubbard recommended arranging alternative social environments for kids, like spending time socially distanced in a parking lot or watching television together.
Now more than ever, they agreed it’s necessary to break the stigma of seeking mental health services and finding a counselor or support group for young people.
“Even if it’s just someone to talk to, it can be helpful or beneficial, someone who’s not your mom or dad that can kind of be an objective person in your life, just to check in on them,” Evans said. “That’s important.”
Mental Health Association Oklahoma has services to evaluate kids, teens and adults, and can help connect families with service providers. They can be reached in Oklahoma City at (405) 943-3700 and in Tulsa at (918) 585-1213, or on their website www.mhaok.org.
Evans has limited availability left, but can be reached through her website www.katieevanslpc.com.