How to Help Young Adults Struggling with Depression During the Coronavirus Pandemic
One of the worst things you can do is “discount their feelings," says family therapist Dr. Barbara Nosal
Young adults are being hit particularly hard, with 74.9 percent of people between the ages of 18-24 reporting that they have experienced at least one mental health symptom. Additionally, about 1 in 4 young adults said they had “seriously considered suicide” due to the global health crisis.
“It’s created a sense of fear and anxiety for everyone. It’s something that none of us have ever experienced, and here we are six months later and we’re still living with that sense of uncertainty,” Dr. Barbara Nosal, Chief Clinical Officer at the Newport Institute, a comprehensive mental health rehab center for young adults, tells PEOPLE.
“In the short-term, most people can manage anything, but as it becomes longer, whether it is financial stress or the lack of socialization for young people and not being able to build milestones, achieve things in their life, I think we are going to see more of an impact,” she adds.
When dealing with young adults exhibiting signs of depression, one of the worst things you can do is “discount their feelings," she says.
“It’s so important first to listen and then to support,” Nosal explains, saying that she’s heard from many young people that they did try to tell their parents, who told them they should just “get over it.”
“If it is, in fact, depression, the person can’t just snap out of it so we can’t expect them to,” she adds, noting that telling children to “just get over it” can also perpetuate the misconception that depression is a “weakness, or it’s not a big deal.”
And while it may be tempting for parents to try and "take care of it" on their own, the best thing they can do for their children — as well as their own mental health — is to seek professional help early on as “it is much easier to treat something if it’s emerging.”
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Although there’s no one way that depression manifests, there are several signs to look out for in young people, including changes in sleep and appetite or an increased amount of isolation or detachment. Depression can also present itself in a number of more uncommon symptoms, including headaches, digestive issues or back pain.
Since every case is unique, it's also important to focus on family communication by opening up a dialogue that goes beyond “pass the ketchup," Nosal says.
“Really get into how you’re feeling. To be able to share that with one another, that really creates that emotionally safe and supportive space. So if a family member is suffering with depression, they’re going to be more likely to share that,” she explains. “Whereas if we don’t have an open dialogue and it doesn’t feel emotionally supportive, especially with younger people, they won’t go to their parents because they’re gonna feel they don’t understand.”
“Now that we’re together all the time, let’s think of some things that we can connect on,” she adds, noting that scheduling game nights or family dinners — where kids are given the opportunity to choose the menu and help make it — are great ways to stay engaged as a family and have fun, while also injecting the day with a dose of structure, which can also be helpful with managing depression symptoms.
One “silver lining of the pandemic” is that access has increased to virtual therapy and telehealth. Other helpful resources available include local and national hotline resources which are "available any time of the day.”
As for some of the “bigger changes” that need to occur in order to curb the rise of depression, Nosal stresses the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.
“The fact is we really do have to treat those mental health issues,” she continues, noting that it’s also important to deal with “other underlying causes of depression” aside from the pandemic. “For young people today, I would say perfectionism is a big one. Probably 99 percent of our clients just don’t feel that they’re good enough” and fear they will never be able to meet their own “self-imposed expectations.”
In addition to getting young people the support they need early on, it's necessary to help them realize that they're not alone. “We all have struggles,” she says. “And this is a time where almost everyone has a certain degree of challenges that this has created in our life.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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