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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

House call: Parents suffering as much anxiety and stress as teens

Many teens suffering from mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, have parents who are struggling with the same symptoms.  (Pixabay)
Dr. David Ward For The Spokesman-Review

There’s a mental health crisis among American teens. During the pandemic, three out of four high school students reported having chronic feelings of sadness and hopelessness, and in a recent national survey 18% of teens reported suffering anxiety in the previous two weeks. These rates of teen depression and anxiety are troubling.

The problem is parents are struggling, too. Parents and teens were recently separately surveyed and while 15% of teens reported depression, so did about 16% of mothers and 10% of fathers. About 20% of mothers and 15% of fathers reported anxiety in the last two weeks, along with the 18% of teens.

One of the key things we know that supports teen mental health is healthy relationships with the people in their lives and attuned relationships with parents, which can be challenging when parents are stressed, anxious or depressed. Mental health typically doesn’t just impact an individual – when one family member is struggling, it can make it more difficult to connect and to support each other.

Good mental health

is part of a full, abundant life

We all experience uncertainty and stress whether we realize it or not. Life has its ups and downs, and the upcoming holidays can be an especially stressful time for some people. But there’s a difference between weathering a few storms and having persistent anxiety or depression.

The first thing I want to share with anyone who is struggling or has someone in their life who is, know that you’re not alone. As a primary care clinician, I talk with patients frequently about their mental health and we encourage people to discuss their mental health with their health care team even if it feels difficult. Patients sometimes want to appear strong or power through rough patches. But truly, tears are welcome in your visits if that’s where you are. We want to know about your whole health and wellbeing and that includes sharing your stress, anxiety and depression symptoms.

Second, mental health matters. A sense of mental well-being and resiliency is part of good health and helps you get the most out of life. It can help those around you as well. The mental health of teens and their caregivers are closely interconnected. Based on survey data, over one-third of teens had at least one parent who reported anxiety or depression and almost 40% of teens reported being at least “somewhat worried” about the mental health of at least one of their parents. So, caring for mental health whether parent, child or grandparent, should be a regular part of our health maintenance and routines.

Here are a few places to start

Foster connections with others. With my first child, I connected with other young parents to talk about the experience, share tips, reassure each other and just connect about the stressful parts of caring for a newborn. It made a big difference to just bond and know there was support available when I needed it. Whether that’s reaching out to friends or joining a community group, fostering connections helps you be more resilient in times of stress.

Look for sources of strength in your life. And use them. What works for you can be very individual. It might be asking grandparents to engage with your kids more, relying on your faith community, attending substance abuse meeting groups or knowing that if you get that workout in every day you just feel better. A commitment to seeking help in ways that make you feel more engaged and better supported can help reduce anxiety and depression and give you a source of strength when you need it.

Connect with your community. Spokane has a strong network of local organizations that provide mental health support, social services, substance abuse programs, peer groups and more. It can feel like work to find the right fit, but finding ways to plug into your community gives you another ongoing source of strength and support.

Find mental health programs that work for you. If you need help with depression, anxiety, addiction and recovery, or other mental or emotional issues that interfere with your daily life, mental health counseling can help you learn about conditions and make changes. Many health plans can help you connect with mental health services or you can ask your primary care provider.

With increased demand for mental health services, it can take time to get established with a mental health provider. You can also take advantage of digital mental health and emotional wellness apps like myStrength and Calm that provide mental wellness and mindfulness resources. Many health plans offer digital solutions like apps, chats with a coach, and even virtual group therapy.

Caring for yourself can reduce anxiety. Research shows that practicing self-care can help you sleep better, improve focus, strengthen relationships and manage daily stressors. Self-care has also been shown to be effective in helping to build resilience to navigate life changes and challenges and bounce-back after tough times. Regular moderate exercise, eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep make a big difference in physical health and mental well-being.

When to reach out for help

Many of us need help at times in our lives. If you are feeling like you can’t cope, like you don’t have support or like you’d just want to talk over options – get in touch with your clinician. A primary care provider can discuss the entire spectrum of mental health conditions including temporary anxiety brought on by stress and experiencing depression. They can discuss treatments and medication as needed and connect you to help.

They will review symptoms you are experiencing, including physical symptoms like shortness of breath and heart palpitations that can be signs of anxiety. They will ask how this is impacting your daily life and how long you’ve been experiencing the symptoms and then work with you on solutions.

Sometimes people aren’t fully aware that they are coping with anxiety or depression. Some signs that it might be time to ask for help include not being able to sleep, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, feeling agitated or antsy much of the day, or a lack of interest in activities.

I had a parent come in who was pacing the room and unable to sit still but didn’t recognize that anxiety was driving the agitation. We worked together to talk about what he was experiencing and identified how anxiety was impacting his life. With the input of his support network, he eventually decided to take a low dose of anxiety medication. When I saw him again in a month, he said, “I feel like me again.”

Caring for our patients includes caring for mental wellbeing and whole health and clinicians want to know if you need support. Parents are caretakers, but they should recognize that they need to care for themselves as well. Supporting mental health 365 days a year is part of leading a happier, healthier life.