By Janell Gore | South Kern Sol

As the world attempts to return to a sense of normalcy after the pandemic, the shift is not that easy for some teens. Teens are experiencing higher rates of anxiety and depression statewide and, according to Governor Gavin Newsom’s office, 1 in 10 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 suffered from at least one major depressive episode in the last year.

An increase is also happening within Kern County according to the Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (Kern BHRS). 

“We are seeing a steady increase in teens who have anxiety and depression accessing behavioral health services,” said Liz Bailey, Behavioral Unit Supervisor II from the Children’s team at Kern BHRS. Prior to the pandemic, we would primarily see teenagers having mild to moderate anxious or depressive symptoms, whereas now we are working with teens who have moderate to severe symptoms.

Family physicians are also seeing this inside their clinics. Dr. Nadeem Goryaya spoke about how he has seen an increase in teens with anxiety over the past five years. One factor he has seen go into this increase is social media. One reason for this is that the social stresses from school no longer stay at school. 

“The stresses come with them via social media, for instance, if a child used to be bullied in school, previously in our generation we went home to mom and dad and you felt better,” said Goryaya stating that children used to get a sense of a break from being bullied. 

“Right now social media has made it such that it’s really a 24-hour, seven days a week, 365 days non-stop stressor for kids. To that extent we’re seeing significantly more anxiety and depression as a result,” said Goraya. 

17-year-old Essence Vasquez dealt with depression when she was 14 years old. First, it started because of being bullied by girls in her high school leaving her feeling helpless and unsafe. Her depression then progressed when she lost a family member.

“Every day kind of felt like a blur, it’s like days just melted into one. It kind of just felt like I was living in a weird dream,” said Vasquez. 

Vasquez said one reason she started to feel better after asking for help is because of the people she surrounded herself with. She also started to appreciate the people in her life more. 

“Nothing really helped until I got around positive people I felt like cared about me,” said Vasquez. 

Vasquez explained that once she asked for help, the support from her family and friends significantly helped as she tried to ‘find herself again’ and advised other teens that it’s okay to ask for help and step away from toxic situations. 

Goraya encourages parents to get involved as early as possible if they see signs of anxiety or depression in their teens. He said for parents to trust their parental instinct with their kids because they know their children better than anyone else. 

Other specific signs he said to look for are withdrawal, sleeping too much or too little, and expressing new negative emotions. Additional signs from the help guide website are extreme sensitivity to criticism and unexplained body aches and pains. 

Goryaya said it’s best to bring a child in for an evaluation as soon as you start noticing these signs. 

“They should try to schedule their child for an evaluation. It’s better to over-evaluate than to under-evaluate or to miscalculate or underestimate the level of your child’s anxiety or depression without getting them evaluated,” said Goraya. 

Physical activity can also help combat depression in teens, Goraya said 30 to 60 minutes of exercise is good for teens and helps flush out background noise. Bailey stated that a healthy lifestyle is important to maintaining mental health.

“Incorporating a healthy lifestyle of eating good foods, getting enough rest, limiting screen time, and engaging in physical activity helps create a stable foundation,” said Bailey.

Another thing Goraya suggests is having an open line of communication between parents and children so that they can always know they can go to their parents for help. Also, by spending time together over a meal. Bailey gave a similar suggestion for parents to be present with their children. 

“Spend time with your teens, get to know who they are as people, get interested in their life, and spend time together. Listen to your teen, know the warning signs of self-harming behaviors and substance use,” said Bailey. 

Bailey also noted that it is just as important for teachers to listen to their students and know the signs to look for. 

Listen to your students, be aware of warning signs, and talk with their parents early when you observe a concern. The more meaningful adults working together in the teen’s life, the better,” said Bailey. 

Bailey and Vasquez emphasized to teens that it is okay to reach out for help. Reaching out for help can include talking to friends and family or calling the 988 crisis care center to be connected to a counselor. 
“Talk to your teachers, friends, pastor, holding in thoughts and feelings over time can be counterproductive and, in some cases, harmful, ” said Bailey. “Human connection is key and an incredibly vital component of how to help yourself when experiencing challenging behavioral health symptoms.”