What are some of the common mental health issues you are seeing with teens recently?
Vidya Nair, MSW: Lately I am seeing a prevalence of anxiety, mood disorders, and depression. The pandemic and the increase in social media usage have had a huge impact on teen mental health, and not for the better. Often, when children are grappling with emotional and behavioral challenges, these difficulties interfere with their school performance and functioning. As a result, I’m also witnessing social anxiety, school refusal, substance use disorder, eating disorders, and behavior issues.
What do you think are some of the contributing factors?
Vidya Nair, MSW: The more risk factors adolescents are exposed to, the greater the potential impact on their mental health. Some risk factors are obvious – bullying, witnessing or experiencing sexual violence, harsh parenting, and/or severe socioeconomic hardships.Others are more subtle and easier to overlook, such as exploration of identity and pressure to conform . Media influence and gender norms can exacerbate the disparity between an adolescent’s lived reality and their perceptions or aspirations for the future. Other important determinants include the quality of their home life and the relationships they form with peers.
How is this affecting both parents and children? What can parents do to help?
Vidya Nair, MSW: Parents and caregivers need to be equally invested in their children’s mental health and physical health. It is helpful for parents to be aware of what to look for, when to worry, and how to respond. Family relationships can become strained because parents and caregivers do not know how to help their children or themselves. Many families do not have access to proper mental health services, and this puts the entire family in a vulnerable position.Parents who work to be less judgmental often win over their children's trust and become sounding boards for their children as they navigate the many struggles associated with the teen years. Parents can help children by providing unconditional love and acceptance through their mental health struggles.
What are some of the therapeutic modalities used and how do they work?
Vidya Nair, MSW: I have found that a combination of different psychotherapy approaches can be helpful.Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is designed to help a child understand and accept their inner emotions. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) can help improve a child's moods, anxiety, and behavior by examining confused or distorted patterns of thinking. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can be used to treat older adolescents who have chronic suicidal feelings/thoughts, engage in intentionally self-harmful behaviors, or have borderline personality disorder.Family therapy focuses on helping the family function in more positive and constructive ways by exploring patterns of communication and providing support and education.
Tell me more about your practice with teens.
Vidya Nair, MSW: I consider it an absolute honor to support my adolescent clients. In my experience, the first step is building a therapeutic relationship with the client. Often, adolescents do not want to see a therapist. This always changes once they realize therapy is a safe space. I hold a safe, non-judgmental space for my clients to “just be.” My approach is to work with families to improve their communication and overall well-being.