This virus is taking its toll, not only on front line medical workers such as the recent physician from New York who took her life but also on families quarantined together without much support. With a limited caseload that I serve weekly, a third have referenced thoughts of suicide. Many of these families are already stressed, but COVID-19 has put them over the top.
Depression & Anxiety are Increasing
A twenty-five-year-old required to report for work spends time in the bathroom crying. A sixteen-year-old begins to cut himself, and tearfully shares his thoughts of suicide with his parents. A young mother late in her high-risk pregnancy has to work in nursing homes where there are COVID patients. If there is any vulnerability, risk, or history of anxiety and depression, coronavirus will exacerbate this. Teenage depression and suicide have been on the rise, increasing sixty percent between 2009 and 2017. One in eight Americans ages 12- 25 experienced a major depressive episode according to this same study by the Health and Human Services. Parents with young adults (15-35) at home due to quarantine requirements, as well as parents of young adults living outside the home, are worried.
What are the Signs of Depression & Anxiety?
There are some typical signs of depression or anxiety that parents may observe and are documented in the resources listed at the end of this article. These include sleep and eating less or more, fatigue, physical complaints, irritability, withdrawal, lack of interest, hopelessness, problems concentrating, academic performance problems, guilt, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide. For teens and young adults, parents should look for an increase in any of the above symptoms associated with the advent of the coronavirus. Other signs that may mask depression or anxiety include irritability, defiance, abuse of alcohol or drugs, expressions of loneliness, and lack of friends. This age group traditionally is on the run all of the time and typically hanging out with friends. Quarantine requirements represent a significant disruption in their lifestyle and what makes them happy. Not all young adults are socially connected or desire to be so, and some may capitalize on stay and place by withdrawing more.
What can Parents Do?
Parents can make a difference in the lives of these young adults, whether living at home or not. Here are a few tips for helping yourself and your young adult through this difficult time:
- First thing’s first, parents need to be sure they are practicing proper self-care- sleep, nutrition, exercise, connecting with friends, and getting professional help if feeling burdened by the impact of this virus on the family. Put your oxygen mask on first before you reach out to your child to help them. Seek help yourself if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above.
- Second, reach out to your child in concern and ask them how they are doing. In doing so, be prepared to listen and reflect what you hear, so they know you care and understand. Ask for a couple of suggestions as to how you could be helpful. Brainstorm with them possible options and solutions.
- Third, encourage your young adults to create a structure to their lives that include regular sleep, healthy eating, and daily exercise. These increase resilience and capacity to fend off depressive symptoms.
- Fourth, encourage opportunities for them to connect to you, other extended family members, and friends. Whereas social media has received some bad press as a contributor to young adult problems, including depression, it may be a blessing in disguise as the only way to stay connected to others. Let your kids play video games with friends online, especially boys, who connect better through activities than face to face.
- Fifth, demonstrate empathy for the multiple stressors in their lives, not the least of which is this virus. Avoid criticizing or labeling their reactions as signs of mental illness. Use words like stress, pressures, challenges, and ways to cope, manage, or overcome these problems. Teens and young adults are particularly sensitive to implying that they need to see a “shrink.”
- Finally, this may not be enough, and you may need to pursue professional help.
How to Pursue Professional Help?
In this regard, you can share with them local Crisis Line phone numbers that can be helpful to call late at night when they may be most depressed. Also, be willing to ask them if they could benefit from talking privately with someone outside of the family. Often these young adults don’t want to alarm or burden their parents but may avail themselves of outside help if they can avoid the perceived stigma in this. Currently, I’m providing counseling service to parents and young adults via telephone or videoconference and finding that in several cases, young adults have been more willing to take advantage of this somewhat buffered approach to getting help. I’m listed on https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists network as are other qualified professionals, and they may want to flip through the bios of these helpers to see if one seems like a good fit.
What if they Refuse to see a Counselor?
You may try to have them see their doctor, particularly if this is someone they have seen in the past, and he or she may be able to start them on antidepressants and make a referral for counseling as well. Antidepressants can help but do not make one more skilled at dealing with a crisis such as this virus. Be bold in expressing your love and concern and your desire to help them feel better and be happy—they can’t deny this shared goal.
Additional resources. Be informed and take advantage of these and other online resources.
- National Helpline 1-800-662-4357
- NAMI Helpline- 800-950-6264 available M-F 10:00AM to 6:00 PM ET
- Parents, Have You Let Go? Take the Quiz - July 6, 2020
- Parents, Have Your Young Adults Let Go? - June 29, 2020
- To Fund or Not to Fund Your Young Adult Child. That is the Question! - June 22, 2020