Behind the Smiles

Behind the Smiles

Mental health right now can be very hard to deal with in many ways. A lot of teens often find themselves comparing themselves to others, whether it be someone on social media, someone at school, or just a stranger at the store. Teens now also deal with the added pressure of being enough for friends, romantic partners, teachers, and many other people and things. These comparisons or worries can hold a deeper meaning that could lead to anxiety or depression that could be undiagnosed. As of 2019 a study by the CDC shows that twenty to thirty percent of high schoolers are diagnosed with depression that are known cases, thousands of others may have it but are unable to get help or are unaware that they may not be okay. Around one in three teens will be diagnosed with anxiety a year, a 2017 article by nassap says.

Untreated and unrecognized anxiety in teens can lead to far worse things. It is normal for pre-teens to experience anxiety with the changes happening to them in school, to their bodies and at home but there’s a certain point where if that anxiety is still there or worsening you should seek help. Pre-teens usually outgrow the anxiety but when it starts to keep them from seeing friends, playing sports, going to social events and even leaving their bedroom it’s no longer pre-teen anxiety. This growing anxiety frequently is not recognized by parents or guardians. “…Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.” An article from the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Being online in school has a huge impact on student mental health. Little to no real person to person connection causes the young mind to lose interest in things they used to love. A study by an American psychological association says …” Perez, a child development specialist who consults with children and families in the Chicago area, recently worked with a mother whose 16-year-old son was losing interest in going to college after graduating high school. Before the pandemic, he was passionate about math and science and participated in his school’s robotics and Model United Nations clubs, but his mood started changing after states began closing schools in the spring. As he logged on to his computer for Zoom school week after week, he started sleeping more during the day and became more isolated from friends and family members. “He’s not motivated anymore,” says Perez, who is also an associate professor of international psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “Young people like to make plans for the future, and it’s difficult to do that when they don’t know how long this new way of life will last.” Although U.S. school districts that chose a remote learning model had more time to prepare for online school this fall than in the spring, psychologists who specialize in education research are concerned about how kids will cope psychologically with the ongoing loss of access to the friends, teachers, and routines associated with going to a physical campus. Research shows that the school environment is critical for fostering academic motivation and social development, and many students rely on schools for mental health care. Among adolescents who received mental health services between 2012 and 2015, 35% received these services exclusively from school settings, according to data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Ali, M. M., et al., Journal of School Health, Vol. 89, No. 5, 2019).  “We have to be careful and acknowledge just how big a change this has been for kids and families,” says Beth Doll, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “We have taken away the context that supports their engagement in school and their overall well-being, plus they are dealing with the tremendous uncertainty about the future.” This shows how social anxiety can develop and cause major issues with academic achievements, mental health and motivation.

Depression is often confused with normal teen hormones and goes untreated. There are over 5,079 suicides a year ranging from the ages of fifteen to twenty-four because of untreated depression. That number just keeps going up.  A mayo clinic article on teen depression states, “…Issues such as peer pressure, academic expectations and changing bodies can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens. But for some teens, the lows are more than just temporary feelings — they’re a symptom of depression. Teen depression isn’t a weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower — it can have serious consequences and requires long-term treatment. For most teens, depression symptoms ease with treatment such as medication and psychological counseling” This shows that untreated depression can cause major social, medical and academic issues. Some teens are afraid to ask for help or don’t think they need it, these are the teens we lose. With this untreated depression, some teens develop major eating disorders and cause permanent damage to their bodies. There are many ways teens that think they may be suffering from this can get help, the best way if you are afraid to ask for help is online. Yes online, you can video chat, audio call, or direct message a health professional. Teens that go untreated often end up having drug addictions or alcohol abuse from trying to ease the pain, this is how we lose friends, siblings, classmates, and children. Part of being afraid to ask for help stems from some teens’ parents, guardians or peers shaming them for feeling empty, worthless, comparing themselves to others, and sometimes asking how they look too often. Not all parents, guardians or peers are like this. Some teens are afraid to ask for help because they feel like they are faking it. Guilt is a common symptom of depression because there is a voice in your head telling you that you are not enough or that you are lying to yourself. This is why depression goes unnoticed in so many teens. Depression can be hereditary along with anxiety but these things can also develop from early childhood trauma or recent trauma or isolation, such as being hybrid or online in school.

 Finding help and treatment can be very hard for teens. A lot of teens feel like they can’t get help because parents or guardians don’t educate themselves about how times are different and being on the computer with no real contact is extremely hard on adolescent brains and bodies. Some teens feel guilty for feeling empty or worthless and don’t want people to think that they are looking for pity. Treatment can be very hard to find for a majority of teens suffering from depression and anxiety, a very easy way for teens looking for help but are too scared to tell anyone can go online to mayo clinic and find the online therapy with a mental health professional and choose to video chat, audio-only chat, or direct message. This offers a more comfortable way for teens with social anxiety to seek temporary help until they consult with a doctor. An article by the CDC gives information about how to go about finding help and receiving treatment. The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider such as your child’s primary care provider, or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation.  Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. Specific symptoms like having a hard time focusing could be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is important to get a careful evaluation to get the best diagnosis and treatment. Consultation with a health provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment. A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. The school can also be included in the treatment plan. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one form of therapy that is used to treat anxiety or depression, particularly in older children. It helps the child change negative or intrusive thoughts into more positive, effective ways of thinking, leading to regular or more involved behavior. Behavior therapy for anxiety may involve helping children cope with and manage anxiety symptoms while gradually exposing them to their fears so as to help them learn that bad things do not occur.

In conclusion, we need to make sure that we are keeping friends, family, and peers safe by checking in with them and seeing if they need help going through mental health issues. It’s so easy to put up a fake smile for everyone when there are unimaginable horrible things happening behind closed doors and fake smiles. If you ever feel like you or someone around you is going to hurt themselves call this number (800-273-8255). Depression and anxiety are very serious problems and we need to make sure that we are taking extreme precautions as friends, parents, teachers, peers, coworkers, strangers, siblings, etc. That people around us are really okay and we can do this by spreading awareness, normalizing seeking help, talking about mental health, watching what we say, and just showing others love, comfort and passion. You matter and you belong in this world.

This article originally appeared in The Surveyor.