New data shared by the Crisis Text Line, a global nonprofit organization that provides free, confidential mental health help through text, revealed some surprising insights: Teens and young adults are reaching out for help at high rates than older adults.
People between the ages of 14 and 24 made up the bulk of those who reached out for help through the text line in June, with nearly 32 percent of texters self-identifying as being between the ages of 14 and 17, and more than 25 percent from ages 18 to 24.
The data was pulled from a post-conversation survey of more than 67,018 texters who reached out to exchange more than 3 million messages in June. The Crisis Text Line reported that it saw a slight decrease in conversations about anxiety and depression, while conversations about isolation and loneliness increased.
Only 2 percent of the conversations mentioned COVID-19, down from the nearly 4 percent in which the virus emerged as a topic in March.
Related video: Crisis Text Line interim CEO says 2020 left impact on youth
The 14- to 24-year-old demographics have consistently been reaching out for help over the past few months, according to Crisis Text Line data, with the 14- to 17-year-old group regularly being the most likely to contact the helpline.
So, why are so many young people reaching out for help? The data didn’t explicitly say, but experts have some theories.
“We’re at this point in time where we’re almost in a post-pandemic period,” Kelly Maynes, a pediatric psychologist at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “There’s this increased sense of expectation to get back to normal.”
But, Maynes says, “for a lot of teens and young adults who have had their sense of normalcy so severely disrupted, it’s fair to expect that it can be disenchanting.” For some, that may mean that getting out in public again isn’t as exciting as they remember; for others, it may be that they don’t have as full of a social calendar as they’d hoped.
As life gets back to some sense of normalcy, some teens and young adults may have a fear of missing out as they see others posting photos from parties and vacations on social media that weren’t even an option a few months ago, clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life and creator of the Anxiety’s a B!tch podcast, tells Yahoo Life. If these teens aren’t having the same experiences, that can inspire feelings of loneliness, he says.
At the same time, Mayer says that this younger generation is “also paranoid about the Delta variant causing shutdowns to happen again.” They’ve already lived through navigating life as a teenager or young adult in lockdown — and they’re scared they will have to go through that again. “The after-effects of the pandemic are now hitting people full force,” Mayer says.
Currently, the Delta COVID-19 variant makes up more than 80 percent of COVID-19 cases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said on PBS NewsHour. He also said that the Delta variant poses a “significant threat” to public health.
Texting is also a natural way for younger people to reach out for help, Maynes says. “A text line is just so easy to access," she says. “After coming out of a period of time where social interactions have been so difficult, texting is probably the least anxiety-provoking way of having a conversation.”
Another reason why younger people may be reaching out to the text line: It's available 24/7. “They can also receive that support during the night, which is when some teens report increased distress — it may be due to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and/or sadness that keeps them awake,” Yesenia Marroquin, a clinical psychologist in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Life.
Finally, younger generations are just more accepting of mental health issues — and seeking help when they need it, Mayer says. “These are the first age groups in history that grew up with a wide acceptance of mental health and its benefits,” he says. “It started as ‘fashionable’ in these age groups, and now it is accepted as an essential part of life.”
If you have teens at home, experts say there are a few things you can do to help support their mental health. It starts with being open about mental health with your family and the importance of discussing it openly, Mayer says. “Talk about mental health frequently around the family,” he advises. That can be as simple as saying things like “We are here for you,” when your child is experiencing a rough patch, he says. Mayer also suggests that parents praise their children for being open about mental health and their own struggles.
Marroquin says it’s also OK to just let your child vent. “Validate your teen’s emotions without rushing to fix them,” she says. “This can help them feel supported and not alone.” She also suggests doing activities with them that they’re are inclined to do, “instead of activities you think would be helpful for them to do,” like watching their favorite show with them or doing a hobby they enjoy. “Allow them to direct the activity,” she says.
Maynes recommends “recognizing that there is some hesitancy and apprehension about getting back to ‘normal.’” And that, she says, can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
“That’s OK,” Maynes says. “It doesn’t indicate that there’s something wrong with them.”
Maynes suggests talking to your children and validating their emotions. “Tell them if they want to connect with a therapist or mental health provider, that’s OK, too,” she says.
While this group may feel lonely and isolated, experts stress that help is available. Mayer especially applauds the Crisis Text Line’s services: “Mental health has stepped up to the plate.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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