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The Toll On Teens: Mental Health Experts Say Pandemic Causing Uptick In Depression, Suicides

Disrupted routines. Separation from friends. Worry about world events. 

These are things that can cause stress for anyone, but for teens and tweens, the coronavirus pandemic adds new pressure to their already tumultuous world. 

And it’s not going to get better any time soon. 

A plan released by the district says students in the Clark County School District will only attend physical classrooms two days a week starting in the fall. 

With all of these added pressures, mental health care professionals say depression and suicide attempts among youth are increasing.

Mendi Baron is the founder of  Ignite Treatment Centers. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that teenagers crave structure, and without it, their mood and mental health can be impacted.

Plus, parents can't always see the signs that something is wrong because a normal routine usually provides a template for behavior.

"When you're in school and there's structure you can say, 'Well, my teenager he missed classes. He's not doing well. He slept in. The teachers are reporting issues,'" she said, "There's something to judge it by, and now without structure, you don't even catch the issues."

She said the issues just get exacerbated and parents don't catch them until they're too large to handle by themselves.

Julie Murray is the co-founder of  Hope Means Nevada, an organization that aims to raise awareness around mental health and teen suicide.

She said all of their hotline and crisis numbers have seen a dramatic increase since the pandemic started.

"We are seeing all of the hotlines are up considerably," she said, "If you just look at the Disaster Distress Hotline, it was up in April over 800 percent. The Crisis Text... that is up considerably. They are all up in multiple hundreds of percentages of increases."

Caroline Edgeworth is going to be a junior at Bishop Gorman High School in the fall. She is also the teen co-founder of Hope Means Nevada. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that the school closures during lockdown dramatically hurt her and her friends.

Losing interactions with her friends and time with her sports team was difficult. 

"It was kind of my escape from home and now I'm stuck at home," she said.

However, Edgeworth said she is doing her best to connect with her friends through social media and other online forums.

"I've been dealing with it through an online setting with my friends," she said, "No matter how I contact them whether it's text or FaceTime. I always try to have meaningful conversations with them, remembering that they're giving me their time and I'm giving them mine."

Edgeworth admits it is harder to connect with people when online but it is better than not connecting at all.

Baron agreed that finding connections of any sort is important for teens, who are hardwired to be social, but she cautions that too much online time can be harmful.

"Spending some downtime online is okay, but then you have to look at how long are they spending? And what are they doing? And what is this replacing?" she said.

Adrienne O’Neal is a therapist with  Red Rock Counseling. She agreed that being online can be a double-edged sword.

"It's that balance between allowing them their private time, allowing them those platforms to connect with but you really want to make sure that technology is not undermining any healthy behaviors," she said.

O'Neal said it is important that kids maintain healthy habits like a good night's sleep, productive learning, physical activity and interaction with the family.

What do parents do if their teenager tells them he or she is feeling depressed? 

O'Neal said the most important thing is for a parent to be available for their kids.

"We have to be able to have those difficult conversations," she said, "We have to be to have some compassion and some empathy and really validate what that person is talking about."

Baron agreed but she noted that most kids won't readily tell their parents how they are feeling. She advises parents to lay the groundwork for open conversations with their kids now.  

"You have to set the stage for a conversation," she said, "Don't expect your teen to come and talk to you if you're working all day and you don't have dinner time and you're on your phone and you don't communicate. They're never going to show up and talk to you. You have to create the moments sometimes." 

She said they may not open up right away, but eventually, if parents keep at it, they will open up and talk to you. When they do, Baron advises that parents make sure their child understands they collaborating with them on addressing issues not trying to "fix" them. 

If you’re in crisis, there is help available.

Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


Mendi Baron, founder, Ignite Treatment Centers; Julie Murray, co-founder, Hope Means Nevada; Caroline Edgeworth, teen co-founder, Hope Means NevadaAdrienne O’Neal, Red Rock Counseling 

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.