Managing Your Mental Health: Creating a culture of wellness for teens

As we continue our Managing Your Mental Health Campaign--tonight we are focusing on teen mental health.
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 9:26 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -School stress, the impacts of the pandemic and social media all play a role in the challenges young people face growing up today.

As we continue our Managing Your Mental Health Campaign, one demographic that can be overlooked when thinking about mental health is teenagers.

Psychologist, Dr. Danielle Scott’s life’s work is centered on the emotional well-being of young people.

“This unconscious kind of fostering that go, go, go mentality,” said Scott. “But that is my primary concern is, is how do we kind of turn the corner or and support more of a culture of wellness? My number one concern and I think both as a mom because I have almost 16-year-olds and couple of weeks old twins, but also as a clinician, my biggest concern is how that culture of stress that we reinforce, whether it’s as parents or as a larger society or in school.”

It is not lost on the licensed clinical psychologist that children and teens today are experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression. A culture of stress influenced by social media, and Dr. Scott says the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll.

“I have a series of COVID questions that are added to my intake questionnaires,” said Scott. “Now, in terms of what your environment was like during that time of lockdown, what kinds of protective factors, what was the structure, the family support.”

According to CDC data, 37% of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% said they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

The CDC also reports that mental health was worsening among high school students even before the pandemic.

She says it’s essential for parents and guardians to pay attention to any changes in behavior and make time for things that may seem minor. For teens, don’t be afraid to speak up.

“If you feel like you’re struggling right now, certainly, I would encourage you to reach out to someone,” said Scott. “I don’t think that our teens in the school setting utilize school counselors nearly enough. They are valuable resources in our community. I encourage you, as much as they probably wouldn’t like to hear this too, to talk to your parents. So personally, for myself, I’ve dealt with a little bit of anxiety, but I mostly focus on what my friends might need and what my peers are wanting because it can feel very lonely.”

Chance Evans, a junior at Atlee High School, says she knows stress culture well.

“I think that there’s a lot of academic pressure. I’ve definitely been a part of that, of teams who have fallen into that group of feeling like needing academic validation,” Evans said.

It’s one of the reasons she tries to support friends and peers through the SPEAK UP club at Atlee. The club is through the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation, which focuses on mental health education, volunteering and participating in the Speak Up 5k every year in Richmond to raise awareness for teen mental health.

“I think that, especially for teenagers, I know this can be really hard and also for adults, I think, but being able to ask for help and being able to be vulnerable and being able to say like I’m not doing okay, like will you talk to me?” said Evans. “Whether that’s a friend or whether that’s like medical help, like from a doctor of some kind. Sometimes those, like reaching out, can really change your perspective.”

If you’d like to learn the warnings for child and adolescent mental health, the National Institute of Mental Health has outlined them here.