Teresa Middleton

Teresa Middleton

Teresa Middleton

Isolated.

I think most have had that feeling over the last few months. As hard as this situation has been, it has been especially difficult for youth. Mental health is a major concern for youth in our country and teens are asking for more openness about the issue.

A survey to discover what teens think about mental health was commissioned by the National 4-H Council. The online teen survey was conducted between May 4-14 and the subsequent report titled “How Teens are Coping with the COVID-19 Pandemic” has been published. The full report can be found at www.bit.ly/3evXIUz.

Teen mental health has suffered during this time of social distancing, uncertainty about the future, disruption in routines, family adjustments, online learning — the list goes on and on. The key findings of the survey revealed:

  • 81% of teens say mental health is a significant issue for young people in the U.S. and 64% of teens believe that the experience of COVID-19 will have a lasting impact on their generation’s mental health.
  • In this stressful climate, 7 in 10 teens have experienced struggles with mental health.
  • 55% of teens say they’ve experienced anxiety, 45% excessive stress and 43% depression.
  • 61% of teens said that COVID-19 pandemic has increased their feeling of loneliness.
  • Teens today report spending 75% of their waking hours on screens during COVID-19.

If you just stop here, the picture looks pretty bleak, but there is a positive side. Most teens realize that mental health is a problem and had the following ideas about what needs to change:

  • 82% of teens are calling on America to talk more openly and honestly about mental health issues in this country.
  • 79% of teens surveyed wish there was an inclusive environment or safe space for people in school to talk about mental health.

Studies show that stress affects the brain, but not all stress is bad. Positive relationships and environments can cushion the effects of stress and help bring about healthy development. Trusting relationships between youth and adults can help offset the effects of stress and help youth become independent and autonomous.

4-H believes that youth mentorship can help teens deal with stress, now and in the future. 4-H fosters developmental relationships between youth and adults by expressing care, challenging growth, providing support, sharing power and expanding possibilities. 4-H also helps members thrive through positive emotionality.

Positive emotionality can be built by letting them know their feelings matter and are valid. It also teaches youth that though all feelings are valid, everyone needs to learn to manage their emotions effectively and in ways that lead to health and well-being.

Our lives are quite different than they were six months ago but we can still have a positive influence on the future. Check in with youth that you know and ask them how they are doing. And then listen. Be one of the positive adults in their lives.

Teresa Middleton is the 4-H Program Educator at OSU Extension Service of Douglas County. Teresa can be reached by email teresa.middleton@oregonstate.edu or phone at 541-672-4461.

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