COVID-19 contributing to body-related anxiety, school fears among Edmonton teens: expert
EDMONTON -- The pandemic is wearing on the mental health of teenagers, according to a team of Edmonton psychologists who say more of their young clients are reporting body insecurity issues and school-related fears.
In some cases, young clients have reported having panic attacks at school, their rapid breathing impeded by their mask.
In the most severe cases, teen girls have developed clinical eating disorders.
“And we’re seeing that this is typically among girls age 13 to 16 years old,” said Dr. Amanda Stillar, child psychologist at Stillar Psychological. She attributed the spike in body-related anxiety to teens hanging out with their friends less and spending more time on social media.
“They are exposed to very toxic messages about diet culture and thin beauty ideals and their influencers conveying messages about what young girl’s body should look like,” said Stillar.
“And when that isn’t what their body actually looks like, they begin to feel like there’s something wrong with them.”
Stillar said that negativity can perpetuate multiple different illnesses such as depression and anxiety. It can also lead to the development of eating disorder symptoms, which can include dieting, over-exercising and purging.
“Negative body image is a real concern that could lead to several negative outcomes,” Stillar said.
It’s not just an Edmonton issue. Last week, health experts in Ottawa warned that school disruptions, social isolation and COVID-19 fears were driving an increase in eating disorders among adolescents.
SPIKE IN SCHOOL-RELATED FEARS
Dr. Stillar said her team has also noticed an increase in school-related anxiety among teens.
Most concerns revolve around the constant adjustments or changes in COVID-19 health safety protocols at school and the switching between online and in-person classes, she said.
Confirmed exposures in the classroom, and subsequent quarantines, can only compound the issue.
“It’s unusual for kids. Usually they know what to expect (at school) when they go back, day after day,” said Stiller. “I think it can create a real sense of uncertainty and instability for them."
YOUNG KIDS EXPRESSING WORRY ABOUT DEATH
Dr. Stillar’s younger clients are also experiencing COVID-19-related fears and anxiety, but on a broader scale. Her team has noticed more children, ages five to 12, are expressing worries about death and dying.
“That’s something we don’t necessarily see in that age group unless they’ve had some kind of traumatic experience,” said Stillar.
“(They’re asking), ‘Is it safe to go to the ski hill? Is it safe to go to daycare?’ (These) are not things we normally see young kids worrying about.”
TEENS SMART ENOUGH TO ASK FOR HELP
In most cases, it is the teens themselves recognizing they may need professional help, according to Stillar, and consulting their parents.
“It’s mostly parents who phone. They say to me, 'My daughter or son has requested to talk to someone because they’re really struggling,'” she said, noting that parents should be proactive in talking to their kids if they notice any signs of mental health illness.
Symptoms can include a change in sleep patterns, appetite, missing school, or even a general despondence.
“It’s really important that we have to observe or look for the clues of mental health impairment among children,” said Salima Meherali, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Alberta.
“If (talking) doesn’t work and they see severity in the symptoms then definitely they have to refer to a professional psychologist.”