Pandemic leading adolescents to serious mental health issues

Health experts say children and teens separated from their peers and learning to deal with loss over the past few years took its toll.
Published: Feb. 7, 2022 at 1:58 PM CST
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Experts are sharing a dire warning for parents: teens and tweens now face a substantially high risk of serious mental health issues.

The American Academy of pediatrics blames social isolation, prompted by the pandemic.

“It’s going to take decades to find out the damage that has been going on for these past two years,” Dr. Mark Strassburg, Pediatrician & Medical Director, Dothan Pediatric Clinic, said.

Canceled classes, quarantine and remote learning were actions taken all aimed to protect students from a deadly virus.

Now, leading health experts say it created a new problem.

“I believe that the mental health issues, we’ll see for years to come,” Heather Johnson, Interim Mental Health Services Coordinator for Dothan City Schools, said.

Health experts say children and teens separated from their peers and learning to deal with loss over the past few years took its toll.

“We’re not designed to be isolated and kept a part. That’s never been the case ever,” Dr. Strassburg said.

Johnson shares how the effects of the pandemic took a toll on the school systems.

“It has increased the mental health crisis in schools’ systems, it has increased as much a 30 percent since pandemic started,” Johnson said.

Dothan City Schools data shows students perform better academically with in-person learning versus virtual or remote learning.

“Physically sitting in the classroom and being able to ask questions or discuss topics with teachers and you know your peers it is just overall better for academic achievement for most children,” Johnson said.

According to Dr. Strassburg, social connection for younger kids as they learn to communicate is important. For teens, he said it’s even more critical.

“They are kind of learning their social patterns, and they are developing relationships and all of that kind of stuff, and that is something that is really hard to replace once it’s gone. You miss it, and you don’t really have a chance to reconnect it,” Dr. Strassburg said.

Dr. Strassburg said more and more of his patients are struggling with depression, anxiety, and social phobias. Left un-checked, these feelings can worsen. He said the first step for parents is creating an open dialogue.

“So, any parent that wants to know has to ask and has to talk with their kids. If you don’t do that, you’re never going to know,” said Dr. Strassburg. “And let your children know they are loved and supported.”

He added, “Alabama students are likely to see fewer negative impacts from social isolation. That’s because districts across the state made it a priority to keep their doors open, but an impact is still there.”

Below are a few warning signs that parents can be aware of for their child who may be struggling with their mental health.

Emotional signs:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Drastic mood change
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Outbursts or extreme irritability

Physical signs:

  • Weight loss
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • And poor performance – “Are their grades dropping?”

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