Therapists and counselors in the area have seen a rapid rise in teenaged patients as the average angst and anxiety common to navigating the teen years has been compounded and exacerbated by the unexpected complications associated with the coronavirus lockdowns.
“Nobody could’ve anticipated or expected this,” said Alyssa Najera, LCSW, a therapist with Small Town Counseling CA, Inc. “We are in this chaos and everything has changed.”
Najera, a local therapist with a practice in Oakdale and Sonora, has seen a sharp influx of teenage patients struggling to maintain some semblance of routine amongst a constantly changing environment. Among the issues seen, many students are struggling to maintain grades.
“I think it’s important that we check our own definition of what success looks like in this new environment,” Najera said. “We have to be mindful that they are going through hell right now.”
And that hell is completely new with fresh challenges and pitfalls that a new generation is facing without a lot of tools or even a compass to navigate choppy waters.
“Yes, school and grades are important, but as a parent you want to be aware of all of the added layers of complexity in their lives and focus on how to support both their academic and emotional needs,” Najera said. “As children, they are already dealing with peer pressures, academic difficulties and relationships, now add the health pandemic, social unrest, our political climate and grief around the loss of so much of what they know. Check in with your child frequently to assess how they’re really doing. They may not always want to talk, but keep offering the safe space for them. They will let you know when they are ready.”
The National Alliance on Mental Illness reported the call volume for their helpline increased by 65 percent in comparison to last year with an average of 200 calls per day, most asking for help with anxiety.
When COVID-19 shut down the country in early March, grinding life as people knew it to a screeching halt, all semblance of structure and normalcy disappeared, creating crippling anxiety without a healthy outlet.
While kids are quick to lament the rigors and requirements of a school program, the sudden lack of familiar structure has been jarring and for some, overwhelming.
Sitting in on a Zoom call or within Google classroom can be a poor substitute for an actual teacher in the room, making asking for help a daunting task.
“For students who may have never exhibited challenges, they may present with fresh anxieties,” Najera said. “Parents can get a feeling of helplessness because they don’t know how to help.”
Student athletes may be struggling, too, as the routine of training and participating in fall sports has been altered, creating a question of identity.
“So many things are coming up that have never come up before,” Najera shared. “The situation has created a magnifying glass on existing issues.”
Moving forward, Najera offered the following tips to help parents during this unprecedented and challenging time.
“Don’t hyper-focus on the little things,” she said. “You have an opportunity to create a safe space for your kids. What matters most is how we teach our kids how to deal with big things and how to adapt. We need to create the space where we can hear our children.”
For more information on teen therapy, people can contact Small Town Counseling at (209) 968-1707 or email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Najera also hosts an emotional wellness podcast at https://therapistsuncut.com/