Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that three in five teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless. It’s the latest troubling trend in an ongoing nationwide mental health crisis for teenagers.
Ishika Vij was just 12 years old when her anxiety started. After mounting pressure from schoolwork, Ishika developed an eating disorder.
“Just being able to control how I look versus, I thought, you know, I wasn’t worth enough or smart enough. So I was like, maybe I can be pretty enough or I can, you know, like follow these norms that, like, social media has set,” she said.
Sumeet Vij, Ishika’s father, said that his daughter’s generation is “different.”
“Their ability to cope with things is way different. They are resilient, but I think they are just exposed to a lot more things much earlier than we ever thought,” Sumeet Vij said.
Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist and mother of two, said one way in which parents can combat this crisis is to limit their children’s access to social media.
“When girls are in distress they tend to collapse in on themselves, whereas when boys are in distress they tend to act out,” she said.
Damour said that when teens are in crisis, parents should, “approach it from the side of what we call emotion regulation.”
“You can’t get rid of the distress. You can’t keep it from arriving. But you can regulate it,” she said. “Getting feelings out, as teenagers say, is part of how they get relief.”
Ishika didn’t have that outlet with her parents. She tried to ask for help, but her requests went unheard. It was only when she had thoughts of suicide and a therapist told her family she would die if she didn’t get proper help that they began to understand.
“A lot of parents have the not-my-kid attitude,” she explained. “Like, my kid, he’s not like your kids, or my kid’s better.”
Sumeet Vij said the signs can be easy to miss for parents.
“You don’t see it even when it’s hiding in plain sight,” he said. “When you look back, you see the symptoms and you could say, ‘Hey, these are all there.’ But while we are going through this, we just didn’t realize it.”
Experts say parents should keep an eye out for a sudden drop in grades, self-isolating, a short temper and changes in eating or sleeping habits.
Damour says that what teens need is “warmth and structure.”
“It’s harder sometimes with teenagers. But I think the key with teenagers is to remember that’s their job and it’s not personal,” she added.
After more than six months in a partial hospitalization program that included personal and group therapy and monitored her eating, Ishika is in recovery. Her family now speaks openly about mental health and Ishika is an advocate for mental health services for teens.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.
For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email [email protected].