Supporting Teens with Mental Health Counseling

There is currently a mental health crisis for teenagers, and counselors are critical in supporting young people and improving their mental health. The situation is complex, and it can be hard to determine the exact causes of mental ill health. Research has indicated various contributory factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic. The problem has been widely recognized, and healthcare professionals are working to provide the care these young people need. Licensed counselors have a part to play. They can use their skills and knowledge to contribute to and improve teenage mental well-being.

Mental health counselors are trained to deal with the current state of teen mental health. Young people need access to resources, support, and counseling services. They need help dealing with their emotions and experiences and learning effective coping strategies. Some of the matters counselors deal with include grief, life transitions, low self-esteem, behavioral issues, and depression and anxiety. Mental health counselors can become licensed healthcare professionals by completing a master’s in mental health.

Counselors looking to advance their careers can take St Bonaventure’s mental health counseling masters online. This course trains highly skilled counselors committed to using their expertise to change lives. Students can already be in counseling or new to the field, and they will complete practicum/internship hours and preparation for taking the licensed professional counselor exam.

Many people choose online learning because it is flexible and convenient. An online course can be more appropriate for students with careers, families, and other responsibilities. Lectures are recorded so studying can take place at a convenient time. Students support each other through virtual communication, and there are opportunities to connect with people working in diverse settings. Sharing experiences and challenges can be worthwhile. Studying while working can be beneficial as what you learn can be applied to your work. 

What is the teen mental health crisis?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a problem with teenagers with mental ill health, substance abuse disorders, and behavioral disorders. Since the pandemic, which caused a significant increase in teenagers with mental health difficulties, statistics show that teenage depression and suicide are on the rise. Research has shown that some teenagers are more at risk of mental ill health, including female, black, LGBT+, and socioeconomically disadvantaged teenagers.  

Some teenagers experience traumatic events that can affect learning and hinder academic achievement. In school, the adverse effects of trauma on teenagers can include declining academic performance, poor concentration, school absenteeism, and dropping out. These difficulties can prevent teenagers from succeeding at school. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted research into the mental health of American high school students. The study took place in 2021 and found that 42% of students felt continuously hopeless and sad, and 29% had mental ill health. 22% of students had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 10% did attempt suicide. These problems were more common amongst students who were female, LGBT+, and from ethnic or racial groups. 45% of LGBT+ students had seriously considered suicide, many more than those who were heterosexual. Black students were more prone to attempting suicide than students from other ethnicities or races. 

Poor mental health can affect many areas of a teenager’s life. They may struggle with school, grades, decision-making, and health. Mental health problems can be related to health and behavioral risks such as drug use, experiencing violence, and high-risk sexual behavior. 

The COVID-19 pandemic

The US Surgeon General issued public health advice on the mental health crisis among American youth that he felt had been made worse by the pandemic. He said an increased number of children need a higher level of care. He believed that the pandemic had increased instability and changed structures and that children need routine, stability, and support from trusted adults. 

The COVID-19 pandemic meant young people faced unprecedented challenges. In the years leading up to the pandemic, the research found increased mental health symptoms in teenagers. Since the pandemic began, rates of mental distress among young people, including symptoms of depression and anxiety, have risen. Emergency visits to adolescent girls for suspected suicide attempts have significantly increased.  

During the pandemic, most teens experienced social isolation and disrupted schooling, while others lost family members to COVID-19, had parents who lost jobs, or experienced emotional or physical abuse at home. They could have had COVID-19 themselves or long COVID symptoms. Their families could have lost access to social services and mental health care and experienced food shortages and income and housing instability. Other difficulties, including social media, mass violence, and climate change, contributed to the challenges faced by teens.

For the young people who lost parents or caregivers to COVID-19, grieving was more difficult as mourning rituals were reduced because of social distancing requirements and other public health measures. Many of these young people still grieve while facing related difficulties such as moving house or school. Schools typically keep children safe and connect them to services, but the pandemic disrupted this support.  

There is hope that young people will recover from the effects of the pandemic. According to research, an increase in distress symptoms is common during disasters, but most people do not go on to develop mental health disorders. 

Mental Health

Social media

Social media has become an indispensable part of most teenagers’ lives, something teenagers did not have in the past. Having constant mobile connections means teenagers are exposed to peer pressure even when outside school. For some young people, using social media provides positive peer connections positively, but negative messages can harm others. Social media access can result in cyberbullying. Bullying can include sending nasty or threatening messages, spreading gossip, sexting, and pretending to be someone else. Cyberbullying on social media can cause mental ill health, such as anxiety and depression. 

Some studies have indicated that social media is detrimental to the mental well-being of teenagers and girls in particular. Adolescent self-harm, anxiety, and depression increased after teenagers got involved in daily social media use. Research has found that girls suffer mentally from using social media more than boys and that girls who use these platforms daily are more at risk of suicide in early adulthood. Research has found the same gender gap between social media use and depression. 

Other research has found that when social media use becomes more prevalent in a community, there is a general mental health decline. One study monitored the effect of Facebook on several college campuses and found it was related to a decrease in mental health and an increase in poor academic performance. The study suggested using Facebook encouraged users to compare themselves to others negatively. Researchers have also found that when high-speed Internet is introduced to communities, the rate of social media usage increases along with the number of mental health diagnoses for girls. 

However, some research has failed to find a correlation between social media usage and teenage mental health. If there is a correlation, it seems that there are still other reasons for the current problem with teenage mental health. 

Other contributory factors 

It has been suggested that young people have become more open about mental health problems, which is one possible explanation for the increase in cases. However, research indicates several factors affecting mental health. Young people can be at greater risk of mental health conditions due to discrimination, living conditions, or lack of access to support services. The more risk factors teenagers are exposed to, the greater the possible impact on their mental health. Factors that can cause stress during adolescence include pressure to conform with peers, exploring identity, and being exposed to adversity. Gender norms and media influence can cause a disparity between aspirations and reality. Several studies have found a connection between academic pressure and teenage mental illness. Other determinants include relationships with peers and quality of home life. Harsh parenting, violence, and serious socioeconomic problems are acknowledged risks to mental health as well as surrounding stresses such as climate change and gun violence. 

Puberty can also play a role in bringing challenges mentally to teenagers. The age of puberty has been dropping for many years, particularly in females, and this can bring difficulties in dealing with complex feelings. At puberty, parts of the teenager’s brain have developed, such as the part that generates emotion. However, other areas are still developing, including the ability to regulate and manage emotions. Therefore, teenagers have strong feelings but cannot always deal with them. 

Mental health conditions can be related to biological factors, such as brain chemistry and genes. Some mental health disorders are prevalent in families, but the development of symptoms can be affected by experiences and the environment, which can threaten a young person’s sense of stability, safety, and well-being. Biological factors can be intertwined with environmental factors making it difficult to ascertain any particular cause. For example, when a young person is genetically predisposed to depression, they may be more affected by experiences like bullying than other children. 

How can counselors help?

Professionals working in mental health are finding ways to improve clinical practice and working to update policies to support vulnerable young people. They study the social, structural, and biological contributors to assess the current situation. They are exploring ways to improve clinical training and capacity. The US Preventive Task Force is a group of volunteer health professionals who evaluate evidence on preventive health services. The task force recommends regular anxiety and depression testing for young people. 

Counselors are trained to use methods and techniques during the counseling process. They can start with a strengths-based approach to assessment with teenagers, and this can be regularly reviewed as things are likely to change for the growing adolescent. Assessing teenage clients includes their developmental needs, the influence of school and peers, whether caregivers are meeting their needs, and the context of the family environment. The assessment should also determine the influence of technology on the young person. 

Awareness of teenage cognition

The counselor needs to be aware that teenagers do not have the same control over their lives as adults. They usually have to stay in the same home or school, even if these are problematic. They have not fully developed emotional language, and some teenage clients may shrug instead of saying what they think. Counselors must be aware that young clients may have difficulty expressing themselves. One technique is to use images of different emotions so the client can select the one that reflects their feelings. 

Teenagers experience transition in their lives with changing stages of education and physical changes. They are also in constant flux as they learn about themselves and how they fit in with their peers and community. Clients who are members of the LGBTQ+ community or an ethnic minority are likely to have experienced discrimination. This can be challenging to deal with, considering the typical pressures on teenagers. Counselors can offer some stability, such as when establishing professional boundaries. A person-centered approach is essential as the counselor explores the teenager’s worldview. 

If the young client has a history of trauma, it is essential to see past any eruptions of anger. These young people may be defiant and have outbursts of screaming and shouting. Counselors must see past this behavior and imagine what unmet needs are causing this reaction. They can use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand the young person better. The hierarchy of needs is represented by a pyramid with basic needs at the bottom, psychological needs in the middle, and self-fulfillment at the top. 

Assessment

The counselor can start looking at the hierarchy of needs by assessing if the client’s basic physiological needs are being met. The physical needs of a teenager include adequate sleep, healthy food, and appropriate exercise. The young person’s physical well-being is interconnected with psychological and emotional well-being. Next on the pyramid is the need to feel safe. This might involve helping the young person to cope with any trauma they have experienced. Friendship, respect, and inclusion are next on the pyramid and are important to the teenager’s emotional needs. Developing healthy relationships can help the young person work towards self-actualization. They also need to develop independence and self-esteem. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, which involves self-fulfillment and personal growth and potential. The counselor can work their way up Maslow’s hierarchy to understand what unmet needs may be causing the angry behavior. The counselor can explain the behavior and what causes it and equip the client and their caregivers with tools to redirect the behavior and cope with difficult emotions. 

Teenagers may test boundaries more than adults. Modeling behavior can be used so that if a client misses sessions, the counselor can communicate their feelings in response to the behavior. They can demonstrate that some behavior has consequences and work with the client to resolve the issue. Teenage clients need to learn they have an impact, and it is possible to hurt an adult but to make up with them. The client is encouraged to feel the emotions, which will help them understand themselves. 

Methods of mindfulness

Some counselors will use mindfulness and meditation with their young clients. Counseling can address feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. All of these are important sources of information. Simple and short mindfulness or meditation exercises can help clients connect to all sources of information and give them some time out from the demands of everyday life. Research has found that these interventions are effective in improving mental health symptoms. There can be a reduction in intrusive thinking, depression, anxiety, stress, and aggression, and increased optimism, empathy, and regulation of emotion. Mindfulness and meditation can also be preventative measures by teaching teenagers emotion regulation skills to prevent mental ill health and improve their well-being. 

Counseling can help teenagers understand the cause of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and provide the tools to make positive changes to feel and function better. They can work through issues and be empowered to use what they learn to find solutions to their problems. Counseling sessions can help improve a teenager’s self-esteem, overall mood, and self-confidence. Young people can learn essential skills such as assertiveness, effective communication, and self-awareness. 

Final thoughts

It has been acknowledged that there is a teenage mental health crisis. Research has indicated a rise in mental health symptoms and disorders. The many contributory factors include the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruption and challenges. The US Surgeon General has given public health advice and outlined how the situation can be improved. Licensed counselors can identify clients’ emotional, mental, and social needs and use techniques and methods to improve their mental health. They are key in providing the mental health care that young people need and can be an invaluable part of the solution.