Academic Minute Podcast

Toria Herd, Penn State University– The Teen Mental Health Crisis Continues to Worsen

Mental health challenges affect everyone.

Toria Herd, postdoctoral research fellow at Penn State University, discusses the issues facing one group.

Dr. Toria Herd received her PhD in Developmental Psychology from Virginia Tech in 2021. She received her M.S. in Developmental Psychology at Virginia Tech and her B.A. in Psychology from the State University of New York College at Geneseo.

Dr. Herd’s research uses a developmental psychopathology framework to understand how individual and environmental risk and protective factors coalesce to predict adolescent health risk behaviors and psychopathology. She has primarily focused on parenting factors, (e.g., maltreatment, parent-child relationship quality) and emotion regulation development. She also provides science communication training to researchers as well as non-partisan technical assistance to congressional offices on child welfare issues.

The Teen Mental Health Crisis Continues to Worsen

Last year, 44% of teens reported persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, nearly 20% seriously considered suicide, and 9% attempted suicide. While the pandemic likely contributed to these startling figures, rates of teen mental illness have been rising over the past decade. Since half of all mental illness emerges by age 14 and 75% by age 24, and traumatic experiences like bullying, dating violence, sexual harassment and assault are unfortunately too common in adolescence, this is a critical period for the prevention and treatment of mental health problems.

Mental health problems in teens can sometimes take unexpected forms. About a third of teens have an anxiety disorder. Teens struggling with chronic anxiety may experience agitation, issues with sleep, perfectionist tendencies, or may try to avoid stressful things altogether. 17% of teens struggle with depression. Depression generally involves a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, but it is more than feeling blue. For teens, symptoms of depression may look like withdrawing from family or social activities, shutting down during conversations or conflict, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, hopelessness about the future or negative feelings of self-worth.

To support teens struggling with mental health issues, parents can serve as role models for teens’ coping and emotional development. Even when teens seem unkind, parents who are aware of and able to manage their own triggers can react calmly to challenging behavior, creating opportunities for effective communication with their teen. This builds parent-teen connections and creates safe spaces for teens to communicate about difficult emotions or situations. Parents can also help their teens manage negative emotions by reinforcing their self-esteem and strengths and encouraging self-efficacy by creating boundaries that allow them to build self-reliance and exercise independence.

While challenging behaviors can be the status quo of adolescence, parents should be on the lookout for signs that might reflect a pervasive mental health issue, since early detection and treatment is crucial.


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