COVID pandemic a major driver for a decline in teen mental health across metro Phoenix

Apr 2, 2024, 4:35 AM | Updated: 7:03 am

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part special KTAR News series called “Youth on Edge,” which will examine mental health and behavioral issues among our teens and young adults.

PHOENIX — The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly contributed to a decline in teenagers’ mental health, with its effects being felt at a higher rate now compared to recent years.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised significant concerns about teenage mental health in the aftermath of the pandemic. The study said 29% of high school students reported poor metal health and 42% stated they had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

“That stripped away some years in which we develop those social skills,” Francia Day, a clinical psychologist with Banner Health, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “The way that we become confident with a skill is when we get to practice it.

“Because the pandemic created a good period of time where we didn’t have the opportunity to practice those skills, we’re not as comfortable with them and that’s where we see the anxiety come in.”

Day said anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses cited among teenagers she works with.

Anxiety with social engagement can lead to teenagers isolating themselves, according to Day. Tasks that were once run-of-the-mill, such as going out to lunch with friends or making a phone call, can be a struggle without learning these social skills, Day explained.

“Because there has been … difficulty connecting, we see those seeds of depression,” she said.

Teenagers are constantly trying to identify how they fit into the world and amongst their peers, Day added. The pandemic took away many students’ ability to join clubs, team sports or other activities where they learn to connect with other students.

Day recommends parents to encourage and support their children to find social activities that will encourage connection safely.

“Guide your adolescent to be part of a healthy group, such as a sport, such as an after-school activity, even a light job,” Day said. “Reason being, an adolescent is going to want to connect. They’re going to want to feel a part of some group. So, if we guide them to be part of healthier groups, that can really help their confidence and their mental health.”

A positive that came out of the pandemic is a broader willingness to discuss mental health and the struggles people are facing, Day believes.

“Mental health did come to the forefront. Yes, there is still stigma there, but I think we chipped away at it,” Day said.

“Now, we’re starting to have those conversations and take away some of that stigma and realize that mental health is just part of health.”

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COVID pandemic a major driver for a decline in teen mental health across metro Phoenix