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Teen Anxiety and Depression at an all-time high

Updated: Mar 1, 2022

Dr. Mcguire, pediatric psychologist

Interview Blog Post

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you ended up working with teens and in the area of mental health?

I am a pediatric psychologist and what that means is that I specialized all through my career in working with kids and families that are dealing with acute illnesses, chronic illnesses, and big life changing injuries. My specialty has always been focused on kids, I like kids, I like working with them they tend to get better faster and they're more fun than the grownups. And so obviously if you're struggling with let's say diabetes or a head injury or something like that you have significant risk for becoming anxious and depressed because of what's happened to you. I would say the most prominent issues even way back then was for anxiety and depression, so I got a lot of practice with that, and worked with kids from 3-4 as well as those going off to college.

2. How have you seen anxiety and depression change throughout the years and over the pandemic?

Major increases, it's probably doubled because of the incredible disruption for kids. School was screwed up for a couple of years and it's been very isolating and hard to connect socially, so I think the pressures on kids, the pressures on their parents which then you know kind of leaves all of them playing a role. There's no question in terms of just looking at the numbers that depression and anxiety along with eating disorders, and a lot of ideations/increase suicide attempts have been prevalent throughout the pandemic. Particularly in kids and especially in young women, ages 5 to 17 are terrible and so the other issue I think contributing to that is that there's providers particularly people who specialize in kids and so we didn't have enough resources to go around and then we get this huge surge of kids who are really struggling, and we can't get them into treatment early. When somebody is struggling with symptoms of anxiety and depression that goes on for months and months sometimes before they can get help. That's a lot of what I've seen through the pandemic is just the the lack of resources for kids who want to get some help and cannot.

3. How can you treat anxiety and depression?

The scientific literature is clear that what's called cognitive behavioral therapy has the most evidence behind it in terms of treating both anxiety and depression. Sometimes kids need medication, but medication alone is not as effective as medication along with CBT. The reasons for that are that CBT really pushes you to develop a new skill set, it makes you challenge the way you think about things that might be making you feel worse rather than better. It encourages you to change behaviors that are not helpful and instead develop behaviors that we know are helpful. Things like regular exercise are great for both things. There are skills that you need to learn and practice that will help you recover from anxiety and depression and manage your feelings better. Once you get better at managing, you're thinking, you will see significant improvements all throughout your lifestyle.

4. Why is depression and anxiety so prominent in the position that we are in today?

I think it's because of the uncertainty and the disruption. Kids have become more anxious and depressed, and this trend has only been increasing. The main part is that there is and an issue with kids spending too much time on social media for their own health. Being exposed to things that make them feel worse like fear of missing out and looking at other people's lives and feeling like somehow, they're failing. That is that's not healthy or good for anybody, and even the things that can be kind of fun like Tik Tok. It's designed basically to hook you in to give you these little bits of dopamine with every video or whatever you're watching, and as kids are spending more time on that and less time interacting, I think that's played a part. The pandemic also has played its part because the things that were kind of anchors like going to school, hanging out with your friends, athletics, choir, drama, and all this kind of fun things that help kids connect went away. I think everybody was feeling a lot of uncertainty and because of that we created more anxiety. When things are uncertain our brains react as though there's a threat and we get into fight or flight mode which is so complex. For the most part anxiety and depression was trending up and then we had 22 months of craziness with the pandemic which helped nobody.

5. What else have you seen change in teens throughout the pandemic?

Suicide and self-harming behaviors have really blown up in a significant way and I have had increasing numbers of kids showing up in the emergency department because they're having thoughts about wanting to kill themselves or wanting to hurt themselves, we’ve had increasing numbers of kids showing up in the emergency department because they've made attempt, the numbers are concerning, and I think that's probably just the tip of the iceberg. It's the kids who haven't been able to access care earlier on and so things just build up, and at some point, when they're isolated and their lives have been disrupted, they're missing things that are incredibly important to them. Playing sports at a level where that might influence where you go to college or if you get a scholarship and you don't have that anymore or any of the other activities. At some point kids have reached their breaking point and those numbers have been deeply concerning as we've watched them kind of go up and up during the pandemic. I would say eating disorders have also increased, obsessive compulsive disorder which is an anxiety disorder but kind of with specific symptoms has gone up, needless to say there are a lot of ways that kids have struggled all the way through the pandemic.

6. If you could give any teens out there some advice, what would you say?

Get out get out of your house.

Get outside anytime you can, restrictions are lessening there are ways of being together with the people that you care about, and I would encourage you to connect with your peers again. Developing some sense of purpose is one of the things that saves us as human beings. Having a sense of why you get up in the morning- it can be as simple as needing to feed your cat, or it could be as complex as your family is counting on you. Establishing some sort of purpose in one’s life, helps to build a healthier you.

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