The pandemic has profoundly affected adolescents, and the number of young people with mental health problems has been increasing.

Comprehensive Healthcare specialists said they are seeing more cases of young people who exhibit stress, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and drug abuse this year, and problems have worsened with the pandemic.

“The pandemic brought unexpected changes to all of us,” said Isis Acevedo Gonzalez, a family therapist at Comprehensive Healthcare. “Social distancing and the disruption of routines and the typical social life of adolescents has been interrupted, and this situation has been worse for teenagers, because it is causing serious emotional problems.”

Acevedo Gonzalez, who has extensive experience working with teenagers and children, said teenagers feel the impact from school closures, being at home with family and not being able to see friends and schoolmates.

“Teens develop differently than adults. They are at a stage where they have changes — hormonal, social, emotional — and that’s why they need to have connections,” she said. “They are looking for their own identity, they wonder who I am, and they want to start detaching from their parents. Distancing has had a negative impact on them.”

Depending on age and development, she said, some children fail to understand what the pandemic means and how it affects their world. “Lockdowns have caused them not to be able to socialize outside the home and (they) don’t know how to adjust to this new reality, and that causes them stress, depression and anxiety, which is why statistics have shown that this year the numbers of suicides rose among young people,” she said.

In turn, Alan Kearns, a psychiatric service provider at Comprehensive Healthcare, and a former therapist and youth counselor, said uncertainty about what’s going on in and around the world is one of the problems that affects young people the most.

“If it’s a challenge for adults, for a young person these changes are huge. It is a stage in which so many changes are painful and affect them mentally and emotionally. Using technology to attend school is a factor that stresses them. Young people are sociable, (they) learn in groups, and sitting in front of the computer without being able to interact with others causes them anxiety.”

Kearns said that what they need most is their parents’ help.

“You have to give them space and tell them that it’s OK to talk about their emotions,” he said. “If parents talk about this, they’re going to help their children express themselves.”

He also suggested seeking professional help. A 24-hour crisis line is available at 1-800-572-8122, and additional assistance is available.

Warning signs

Therapist Acevedo Gonzalez said parents can watch for signs of behavioral changes in their children.

She said young people are vulnerable and the goal is to analyze the impact of COVID-19 on mental health. Symptoms parents may notice include: sadness, hopelessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, lack of energy, suicidal thoughts, lack of enthusiasm and motivation; changes in eating habits, sleep and hygiene, feelings of guilt and inadequacy; unexplainable pain, headache or stomach pains, muscle tension, restlessness, constant concerns, insomnia, dizziness, nausea, fears and avoiding places and people.

“The earlier they realize their children have depression and anxiety and may have harmful thoughts or take drugs to escape or seek relief,” it will be easier to help them, she said.

This story first appeared in El Sol de Yakima, the Yakima-Herald Republic’s Spanish-language publication.