MANSFIELD — With social media usage by youth increasing, depression and anxiety have grown exponentially in the past couple of years.
Kailey Bradley, a licensed professional counselor and clinical thanatologist at Heritage Christian Counseling, works with individuals of all ages as they experience life transitions and grief.
Bradley can empathize with parents that there can be a hard balance between letting their child grow while also wanting to be part of the process, especially during the developmental period of their teen years.
“There’s part of them (the teen) doing the normal, natural thing which is becoming their own person and pulling away, but at the same time, they still do need support,” Bradley said.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 16.5% of youth, or 7.7 million kids, in the U.S. aged six to 17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016.
Jennifer Butler, mental health therapist at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Mansfield, said it’s important for parents and children to recognize their symptoms of depression right away so they can begin treatment.
“The earlier they get help, the better it is,” Butler said. “It’s easier for the 7-year-old to learn coping skills and to learn how to manage their thoughts than someone who’s 16-17 and (close to) adulthood.”
There are slight differences in children and teens in behavior when it comes to teens, according to Butler.
“Children may become more irritable, they may not be distinct as easily, they may not want to go anywhere or do things, whereas teens may feel self-isolated to their bedrooms,” Butler said. “They (the teens) may just become more closed-off from their friends particularly.”
Other differences include a drop in grades for the teen or lack of personal hygiene.
Trends in bullying and social media presence have led to a rise in depression and anxiety. With social media, teens tend to compare themselves to others.
“That consistent comparison can lead to a chronic low self-esteem in someone, which can be an indicator for grief, anxiety and feeling lousy about their abilities,” Bradley said.
Children and teens are eligible for medication under careful surveillance and consultation, but it’s up to the parents to make that final call.
“Some parents, rightfully so, don’t want to medicate their child or teen, so we try therapy first. And if we don’t see improvement, then a parent would maybe ask the doctor about (a suggested medication),” Butler said.
Some of the signs a parent should look out for if they’re concerned their child may have depression or anxiety include: irritability, withdrawnness and a lack of energy. There may also be physical issues as well such as belly pain or constant headaches.
“I always recommend and work with families on the importance, too, of being in communication with a good primary physician just to get a good physical and make sure everything’s OK,” Bradley said.
If a parent struggling with their child needs advice, Bradley's go-to suggestion for them would be to encourage an open dialogue.
“I always say this with kids and grief, too, it’s OK as an adult that you don’t have the answers to every question they might be asking, but just allowing that dialogue, I think is huge,” Bradley said.
Even though dealing with depression and anxiety at any age-range can be stressful, Butler said it’s important for children and teens to remember that it’s OK to not be OK.
“Just like adults, sometimes apprehension in admitting that maybe you’re struggling with something, and so I think—first and foremost—normalizing and validating that there’s no shame in experiencing these things and that there’s no shame in asking for help,” Bradley said.
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