How COVID-19 Is Affecting Teens’ Mental Health

This post is contributed by CHOICES counselor Joanna Robertson, M.MFT, LMFT, LPC

Like most of us, adolescents had their world turned upside down back in March by the Coronavirus pandemic. As teens prepare to return to school, I want to share a few of the ways COVID-19 has affected teens’ mental health, how this impacts them long-term, and how you can help.

The adolescent brain is still growing and developing. The prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Thus, adolescents may need additional support when it comes to regulation, which includes sleeping patterns, use of time and technology usage. Because of the pandemic, students lost the structure of school time, and when coupled with a lack of parental support, this left students to navigate on their own. This led to odd sleeping patterns and overall dysregulation, which can impact coursework, family relationships, and mental health.

Teens mental health

What are the challenges teens face in the pandemic?

Students lost consistent access to friends and adult supports. One study found that 80% of adolescent girls feel “more lonely and isolated than before” (The Rox Institute). While teachers, counselors, and mentors are doing their best to remain connected, it proves a challenging situation. Many teens are experiencing an increase in their sense of isolation, depression, and loneliness.

In addition to navigating schoolwork at home, many students have taken on new responsibilities, including childcare, housework, and part-time jobs. This puts additional pressure on teens to use their time and energy in a balanced way, which is already a challenge for the adolescent brain. It also makes it challenging for these students to keep up with schoolwork and can cause many to fall even further behind.

These are only a few of the factors impacting teens as a result of COVID-19. If teens were already using alcohol and/or drugs, they likely continue to do so throughout the pandemic. As their stress increases and their access to healthy coping support decreases, they are more at risk for developing substance use disorders. Further, previous crises show that teenagers may develop substance use problems after the crisis has passed. It is important that caring adults stay actively engaged in supporting the adolescents in their life.

How you can help teens.

Adolescents are creative, resilient, and resourceful, especially when they have supportive adults in their life. If you are wondering how you can help, start with the teens in your life. Talk to them about how they are experiencing things and ask what support they might need. Help them create structure. It’s something they may not want in the moment, but it’s something they need, and need help creating. Connect them with mental health resources either through their school or in the community. Finally, be aware of your own coping methods and responses. Set an example by finding healthy coping skills, such as meditation, peer support, counseling, and exercise.

If you need support, The Council is the place to start. Call us today at 713.914.0556 and ask about our virtual services.

How Drugs Alter Brain Development and Affect Teens

Changes in Brain Development and Function From Drug Abuse

Most kids grow dramatically during the adolescent and teen years. Their young brains, particularly the prefrontal cortex that is used to make decisions, are growing and developing, until their mid-20’s.

Long-term drug use causes brain changes that can set people up for addiction and other problems. Once a young person is addicted, his or her brain changes so that drugs are now the top priority. He or she will compulsively seek and use drugs even though doing so brings devastating consequences to his or her life, and for those who care about him.

(See moreStudy: Regularly Using Marijuana as a Teen Slows Brain Development)

Alcohol can interfere with developmental processes occurring in the brain. For weeks or months after a teen stops drinking heavily, parts of the brain still struggle to work correctly. Drinking at a young age is also associated with the development of alcohol dependence later in life.

What is Addiction?

No one plans to become addicted to a drug. Instead, it begins with a single use, which can lead to abuse, which can lead to addiction.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as:

A chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. Addiction is a brain disease because drugs change the brain’s structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and lead to harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.

The good news is that addiction is treatable. The treatment approach to substance abuse depends on several factors, including a child’s temperament and willingness to change. It may take several attempts at treatment before a child remains drug-free. For those teens who are treated for addiction, there is hope for a life of recovery.

The Council on Recovery’s Center for Recovering Families has a broad spectrum of outpatient services for adolescents, including individual therapy, group therapy, high-risk behavior classes, and other education and treatment programs. For information, call 713-914-0556.

(Source: Get Smart About Drugs, a DEA Resource for Parents, Educators, & Caregivers)

Vaping: What You Should Know….Before It’s Too Late

From the DEA’s Just Think Twice website…

Do you know what vaping is? Have you or your friends ever tried it?

According to a new study, vaping (the use of electronic cigarettes) is pretty popular among teens. But it’s probably more dangerous than you think.

Here are a few quick questions and answers about vaping:

What Exactly is Vaping?
The use of electronic cigarettes to inhale vapors from nicotine, marijuana (THC oil) or general flavorings is referred to as vaping.

There are hundreds of different brands and a few different styles of e-cigs. But in general, they are all battery-operated devices that have a cartridge that holds a liquid solution.

When a person puffs, the e-cig vaporizes the liquid and the user inhales the vapor.

Is Vaping Marijuana Oil More Dangerous Than Smoking It?
Yes, more than likely. This is because users tend to vape a higher concentration of THC (the chemical behind marijuana’s high) than they would smoke. This could also make it more likely for someone to get addicted.

What Are The Health Risks of Marijuana Oil?
Studies have found that regular marijuana use during the teen years disrupts brain development and can also lead to problems with attention span, behavior and impulse control in adulthood.

The Council on Recovery’s Adolescent Services department provides prevention, education, and counseling for teens exposed to and engaged in high-risk behaviors, such as vaping. Our Mindful Choices program includes a 12-week course to help adolescents deal with high-risk behaviors. We also offer concurrent parent education classes, parent coaching program, and individual and family therapy. For more information, call The Council at 713-914-0556.

The Council on Recovery’s Adolescent Services Program Confronts Teen Issues of Addiction, High-Risk Behaviors, & Mental Health Disorders

In response to the alarming escalation in addiction, high-risk behaviors, and mental health disorders among teenagers, The Council on Recovery has assembled an all-star team for its Adolescent Services Program at the Center for Recovering Families (CRF) to confront those issues head-on.

Dr. Susan Delaney , Adolescent Service Manager
Dr. Susan Delaney

The Adolescent Services Program team is led by Dr. Susan Delaney, an accomplished clinician with a deep background in mental health services for children and adolescents. Prior to joining The Council, Susan held key clinical positions with UTHealth and DePelchin Children’s Center that focused on trauma care, interventions, and counseling. In addition to her Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology, Susan also holds a MBA degree, which affords her a unique and valuable perspective on the business of delivering mental health services. Continue reading “The Council on Recovery’s Adolescent Services Program Confronts Teen Issues of Addiction, High-Risk Behaviors, & Mental Health Disorders”