ow can we help teenagers and young people deal with the psychological effects that current events are having on all of us? Doctor Vanessa Cruz, clinical psychologist and acting director of the San Juan Campus Clinic of Albizu University, gives us some advice. “Teenage years are hard. It is a time in our lives when we want to be part of a group, we begin to discover who we are, and yet at the same time, we are struggling with our insecurities. We are in many ways scared of that person we are becoming”, explained Dr. Rivera Cruz.
The worldwide health crisis suddenly took teenagers out of their social environment. It took away, or significantly changed crucial moments for an individual’s development. Young people are showing increased emotional disturbance symptoms because of that, and also because teenagers are exposed to many of the same stress factors that are affecting adults. “Many of them have lost their social structure, have been worried about getting sick or that their relatives might get sick, or even have lost a relative. But they can show symptoms in their own particular ways”, explains the psychologist, who is also a faculty member of Albizu University.
In order to identify if a teenager close to you is experiencing emotional issues, watch if she or he seems to be unmotivated, unusually bored or if has lost interest in activities that they used to enjoy. The teenager might seem like he or she has lost hope, coming off as untrusting or irritable. Dr. Rivera Cruz recommends to keep an eye on the teenager who seems to be angry all the time, shows drastic mood changes or is in constant conflict with friends and relatives. If you notice that the teenager is staying away from friends or even from social media, that can be another red flag.
Watch or find out if there has been changes in sleeping habits, either because he or she is not sleeping well, or because wants to sleep all the time. If there are changes on the appetite or if the teenager stops taking care of his or her image and hygiene, that maybe another sign that something is wrong.
Watch if the teenager is engaging in risky behavior like using drugs, alcohol, or is developing a video game addiction, or if he or she has recurring death and suicide thoughts. If there’s anything common for teenagers, is that they don’t necessarily like to talk about their feelings with their parents, sometimes not even with any adult. But the adults in their life should make them feel like they can talk about how they feel, without being judged. They should know it is completely normal to feel sad, overwhelmed or angry because of the situations we are all experiencing.
There are alternatives to help them better deal with the feelings of frustration, stress, and anxiety. “Let’s help them recognize that we feel o have felt anxiety and that it is a normal response to the current circumstances because it helps to deal with distress. That is the first step in the process of looking and finding ways to protect ourselves, and to learn how to handle those emotions”, explained the mental health professional. A good suggestion is to think of activities that can be done anytime and anywhere. Exercising, reading, taking online courses, getting a part-time job or volunteering can be good options. It always helps to keep in contact with friends and family, either by phone calls, video calls, or actual gatherings, taking precautions as needed. Our young ones should know that it is good mental health to express their frustration and sadness for not being able to do certain activities that were part of their life. Let’s help them to manifest their emotions, instead of repressing them. If you are aware of a teenager at home or around you showing stress symptoms that won’t go away or getting worse, don’t think it twice. Offer and get him or her help. There is a good chance they don’t even fully understand what is happening to them, or why. Getting them therapy and skills to better handle anxiety and stress can make a huge difference. Albizu University Clinics can be an alternative.