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8 ways Covid has impacted teen mental health, and what we can do about it



A year and a half of bans, school closings, and social distancing have caught teens at a vulnerable stage in their emotional development, says Dr. Shelly Ben Harush Negari, a doctor who specializes in adolescent medicine.

Many children have forgotten or had no opportunity to learn how to behave outside the home. Others suffer the serious consequences of lost class time and socialization.

“Usually teenagers shift their focus from parents to friends. The social aspect is very important for their development and the creation of their own point of view. But the pandemic separates them from friends, ”says Negari, director of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and a clinic for adolescent medicine at an HMO in Jerusalem.

How has the past 18 months affected teenagers? How can adults help them move forward as we learn to live with Covid-19 and other future pandemics?

In addition to Negari, ISRAEL21c interviewed clinical psychologist Batya Ludman, a member of the Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit of United Hatzalah and a member of the Advisory Board of Get Help Israel; clinical psychologist Stuart Chesner, director of the Israel Academy for Social and Emotional Learning (a teacher and parent education center); and clinical social worker Adimika (Mika) Smith of Positive Health Counseling.

They identified many issues that need to be addressed, but stressed that not every teenage boy suffers from the negative effects of the pandemic. Some even benefited from the extra time with their parents.

Chesner says it is a case of “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”.

In other words, children with stable families, positive role models, and the ability to learn remotely and independently tend to be “stuck” at home. Children in the opposite situation are more at risk than ever before.

However, pandemic-related problems can affect any young person. Here are some of the concerns of our experts and practical tips for parents.


Dr. Shelly Ben Harush Negari, Director of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Dr. Negari

“Zoom created a situation in which young people are always looking at themselves [on screen] instead of their teacher and their classmates, ”emphasizes Negari.

“All of a sudden I got messages from kids saying they need to look better because others are looking at them and they want to look perfect when they go back to school.”

An increased obsession with body image can sometimes trigger eating disorders.

“I get calls from teachers, parents, and doctors every day about bulimia and anorexia cases, and treatment programs are flooded,” says Negari. “We’re seeing it at an earlier age and more requests for treatment, maybe because parents are more at home seeing what their kids are eating.”

Other pandemic-related factors that can lead to eating disorders include being at home all day with constant access to food and irregular sleep cycles, which distort feelings of hunger and satiety.

TIP: “Family meals are very important. Even if the children live without their familiar structures, eating together in the family makes sense to prevent eating disorders, ”advises Negari.


“Usually you have day and night and now it’s a mishmash – they sleep all day and watch Netflix and text messages with friends all night,” says Negari.

“The delayed sleep cycle has a strong influence on mood and hormones.”

TIP: When school is closed, find daytime activities that interest and stimulate your child. “You can find a buddy and get groceries for someone who’s locked up. You can try new recipes. You could make videos. Ask them what they think they can do instead of being in a doldrums, ”suggests Ludman.


Dr. Batya Ludman, clinical psychologist in Ra’anana. Photo courtesy Get Help Israel

“Some children, especially those with ADD, have a hard time maintaining interest in the face of insecurity and lack of routine and structure at home and in school,” says Ludman.

“A child I videotaped with during the day was in her pajamas under her covers. I could see that her room was a mess. I said, ‘Hey, your desk looks cool. Give me a tour of your room. ‘ She cleaned up quickly and then I engaged her. “

TIP: “We have to make sure that our children think about the future and don’t get the message from us that everything is lost and broken,” says Negari. “Teenagers’ brains are developing, and so much can be done. Encourage them to volunteer. They want to have the feeling of being part of something and doing something. “


Negari notes that quarantines and bans for teenagers with social anxiety are “like heaven”.

However, staying in their comfort zone does not give them an opportunity to practice social skills, which increases their existing anxiety in social situations.

On the flip side, teens who benefit from fellowship with their peers are afraid of not hanging out with friends.

Another fear trigger is the pandemic itself.

“I saw children who were afraid of going out, afraid of getting Covid or bringing it to their family,” says Ludman. “Some have sick family members and that scares them. Some have health problems that make them very anxious to go to school and see their friends. “

She notes that children are more afraid of not getting vaccinated than of getting vaccinated. “The vaccination gives them more freedom to get out.”

People in unsafe homes can become desperate for fear. “In a normally functioning home, it is not bad to be at home for two weeks. If the home is dangerous, two weeks are very stressful, ”adds Negari. “We’re seeing an increase in anxiety, depression, and even self-harm.”

TIP: Encourage children to express their feelings through writing, painting, or dancing, Ludman suggests. Many teens are open to learning breathing and relaxation techniques that will help them regulate themselves.


Dr. Mika Smith from Positive Health Counseling. Photo courtesy of Dr. Smith

“Parents need to limit their kids on social media and other forms of screen time,” says Smith.

“Research shows that people who look at a screen for more than eight hours change their brain waves. You have to do something physical outside to stimulate your brain and get off your screens. “

A study by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Haifa, and Reichman University (formerly the Interdisciplinary Center) in Herzliya found that 83 percent of children and adolescents became screen addict during the pandemic.

Negari adds that teenagers can put themselves at risk by making connections with people in the virtual world, and parents should closely monitor these types of activities.

TIP: Parents need to investigate their children’s virtual encounters, says Smith. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. They may be angry with you, but your questions show that you love them and could even save your child’s life. “


Dr. Stuart Chesner, director of the Israel Academy for Social and Emotional Learning. Photo by Shaya Chesner

“The main effect on emotional well-being is related to isolation,” says Chesner, who specializes in teenagers at risk.

“Isolation can be detrimental to anyone, but especially to teenagers who struggle to establish their identity and who really need role models to do so,” he explains.

“Because they are so isolated, teenagers have been prevented from interacting with many key role models such as counselors, teachers, and even athletes,” says Chesner.

He notes that children in lower socio-economic circumstances tend to have less positive role models in their personal sphere.

“When real role models are not available, they withdraw more into their fantasy world, create fantasy identifications – for example with a gangster rapper – and internalize values ​​that are unproductive and separate from them and their world. That increases all risk factors for any kind of bad outcome. “

TIP: Find ways in which positive role models are virtually present at home, says Chesner. “While we are used to using digital technology to make our interactions more efficient, we never thought of using it to improve the intimacy of our interactions, and now we need to find out. One idea is to schedule a Zoom meeting with a positive role model, perhaps a distant family member, where the meeting itself is the goal. “


While adults think more about the future, adolescents focus on the here and now, explains Negari. This fact should impact how parents communicate their expectations during the pandemic.

“To say that it is dangerous to go out with friends because they could get infected – it is too far away for them. Trying to make them afraid of the future doesn’t work. You need information about what is expected in the next two weeks. “

TIP: Tell the teenagers exactly what to expect in terms of mouthguards, hygiene, and distancing. “You can say, ‘I want you to be able to play basketball with your friends, and for that you have to do 1, 2 and 3,’” suggests Negari. Ludman encourages parents to reward following the rules and to draw conclusions for breaking the rules.


Many teenagers tell Negari that they filter what they tell their parents so their parents don’t worry.

“Parents can tell their children, ‘I am the adult and I am responsible for you. Do not worry about me; I’ll manage.'”

However, Ludman adds, “It’s okay to let her know when you’re having a difficult time. And when parents get the help they need, it helps the children.

“Even in these uncertain times, let’s get the message across that we can get through this together and make positive progress.”

TIP: Plan weekly “dates” with each child individually. Let them choose where to go for an hour and sit down and listen to what they have to say.

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Open up about barriers rural residents face in getting help for mental health



We’re tight-lipped in the farmland. To suffer in silence seems to be the way we have been taught. But I think we need to acknowledge and address our problems. October 10th was World Mental Health Day and gave me a nudge. It’s okay to admit that we’re not okay. Write it down on a health questionnaire. Tell your doctor. Be honest and give voice to your mental health, not just for yourself but for those who love you, who need you.

Mental health is important for everyone, whether in cities or in the country. Photo by Kallie Coates / Grand Vale Creative LLC

In the city or in the country, we are alike when it comes to mental suffering and stigma. The difference is that those of us in non-urban areas face three additional mental health challenges. According to the Rural Health Information Hub, these challenges include:

  • Accessibility: “Rural residents often travel long distances to use services, are less likely to have psychiatric insurance and are less likely to recognize an illness,” says RHIhub. Personally, I’m insured, but if I keep an appointment I’ll take two to four hours off from work to attend. There have been instances where I’ve taken a full day off to do a 200-mile round-trip for a counseling appointment. Not all rural residents can change this schedule. Telemedicine options have been expanded by the pandemic. I hope telemedicine continues to improve mental health accessibility.
  • Availability: I love rural clinics and support them with routine health care. However, at the moment I have no possibility of psychological support in a rural health clinic. According to RHIhub, “there is a chronic shortage of mental health professionals and mental health providers are more likely to practice in urban centers.” I called an expert I had seen years ago after a new appointment and was told they were six would book up to a year for new dates. At first, I had empathy for the person who had to answer the phone and make appointments. Next, I thought of those in the mental health services industry who are unable to get in touch with everyone who wants to see them. We need more experts. I still want to see this professionally and personally. I will wait for your appointment. I will also see another professional on video sooner.
  • Acceptance: The first time I wrote about mental health in this column, I received feedback from someone who felt they knew me enough in real life to comment and say I had the mental health issues or the reality Not really familiar with the effects of mental illness is a family disease. She was wrong. I usually don’t stick with the haters or negative feedback, but it did for a while. Then came a person who personally thanked them for talking about mental health. Don’t let this stop you from seeking professional mental health help. “The stigma of needing or receiving psychiatric care and the limited selection of trained professionals who work in rural areas create barriers to care,” says RHIhub. We can break down barriers by saying that it is okay to seek psychological help for you or your loved ones.

Be honest and give voice to your mental health, not just for yourself but for those who love you, who need you, says Katie Pinke.  Erin Brown / Grand Vale Creative

Be honest and give voice to your mental health, not just for yourself but for those who love you, who need you, says Katie Pinke. Erin Brown / Grand Vale Creative

We are all affected by mental health problems. Unless you have any mental health problems or severe mental illness, you know someone who is. Add in a global health pandemic and we’re more isolated now than we were two years ago. Don’t be silent about mental health or serious mental illness. When someone confides in you, help them get in touch with professional help. Listen more than talk. Showing up with your presence is a difference maker.

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You are not alone. You are needed. You are loved. Your presence is a crucial part of someone’s community. I made a deliberate decision not to let the waves of fear swallow me up that I sometimes feel. I fight it with a network of support. I also know that a healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, fresh air, quiet time in my beliefs, and a few things for myself that I enjoy have positive effects on my mental health.

Caring for our mental health is just as important as caring for our physical health. Let’s start by breaking down the rural mental health barriers of availability, accessibility, and acceptance by seeking the help we need regardless of the travel time, waiting time for appointments, or the stigma we need to overcome.

To read more of Katie Pinke’s The Pinke Post columns, click here.

Pinke is the editor and managing director of Agweek. You can reach her at or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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Facebook should modify algorithms to make social media safer for teens



Talk to a pediatrician and we will tell you: We are going through a mental crisis in teenagers. The pandemic has brought school closings and stay-at-home restrictions that resulted in social isolation among youth. With more than 721,000 COVID-19 deaths across the country, many teens know a deceased person personally and in some cases have even lost a parent.

Unsurprisingly, pediatricians like us are at the forefront of caring for more than twice as many teenagers struggling with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

With this in mind, social media giant Facebook – owner of Instagram, a platform used by more than half of teenagers in the United States – plays a key role. Amid these rising and unprecedented rates of mental illness among teenagers, will Facebook be part of the problem or the solution?

Instagram and eating disorders

Whistleblower and former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen recently testified before Congress that internal research by the company showed that Instagram may have worsened the mental health of young people. In these studies, teenage girls reported feeling worse about their bodies on Instagram, increasing eating disorders, and having thoughts of suicide more often.

We’ve seen examples of this at our own eating disorders clinic, where teenagers often tell us Instagram exposes them to posts that perpetuate unrealistic body shapes and share harmful diet tips.

Facebook’s internal research confirms a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center that shows 1 in 4 teenagers say social media negatively affects their lives because they experience bullying and harassment, unrealistic views about their lives Develop colleagues and get distracted from spending too much time online.

Again, these are concerns we often hear from teenagers in our practice. Such issues are likely to be compounded among teenagers who spend more time on social media, which is particularly worrying given that nearly 90% of teenagers who visit Instagram and other platforms do so several times a day.

This time of immense control presents Facebook with a pivotal opportunity to support, rather than hurt, teenage mental health. Legislators have proposed stepping in and regulating the platform, and as pediatricians we are inclined to support these measures if they are aimed at improving the health and wellbeing of teenagers. However, despite regulation, social media is likely to play a permanent role in teenage lives for years to come. Facebook should seize this moment to take action to clearly improve and support teenage mental health.

Larry Strauss:A teacher’s question: Social media harms my students, but do technical executives even care?

Perhaps most importantly, Facebook and other social media companies should reinforce healthy messages. In the same study by the Pew Research Center, 1 in 3 teenagers reported that social media had a positive impact on their lives, most often because it helped them connect with others or find important information.

However, algorithms in Facebook and Instagram – which are kept secret from public scrutiny – are based on how many people like, share and comment. This approach encourages bombastic, misleading, and unhealthy posts.

We need health-oriented algorithms

Instead, social media companies could specifically curate and actively promote messages about health and wellbeing. Numerous pediatric influencers (e.g. @teenhealthdoc, specialist in youth health in New York) already offer evidence-based advice and health information for adolescents and their families on Instagram and other platforms. Facebook could set up an advisory board of clinicians to assess the quality of influencers’ posts, offer health care providers a review (with the invaluable “blue check mark” that shows a user is authentic and remarkable), and make their posts accessible to a youthful audience do.

Social media companies should also encourage young people to post accurate, health-promoting content themselves.

Tom Kistenmacher:Facebook Revelations: Social Media Strengthened Our Voices, But Impaired Our Hearing

This approach would require Facebook to change its algorithms, which the company is likely to resist unless regulation enforced. Social media companies have come under constant fire for being too late to respond to misleading or harmful posts, which contributes to bad press and negative regulatory attention.

We claim that Facebook should be proactive in its approach and promote high quality content that is interesting to teens. Done right – with an infusion of creativity, thoughtful design, and humor – positive, health-promoting posts can receive a tremendous number of likes, shares, and comments, but may need to be actively promoted amid the negative messages currently prevailing. Realizing that it has a duty to block misinformation about COVID-19, Facebook must take similar steps to protect teenagers’ mental health.

Facebook can also help facilitate moderation in the use of its platforms among teenagers. The current business models of social media companies are driven by the persistent, compulsive use of their products and the advertising revenue they generate. In his credit, Facebook has imposed advertising restrictions on teenagers.

The company should build on this by helping teenagers put their smartphones down. To reduce screen time, Apple introduced Screen Time, an iPhone and iPad integration that allows parents to limit the time teens spend using social media apps. However, workarounds are easy to find for teenagers. Facebook should introduce its own functionality that would allow parents to limit teenagers’ use of its platforms.

We will address the after-effects of COVIC-19 on teenage mental health in the years to come. The reality is that while many of us pediatricians would like to remove social media from the lives of our teenage patients altogether, Instagram and other popular platforms are going nowhere. Social media companies wield tremendous power over young people. You should use it to empower – not hinder – the hard work we frontline pediatricians do to fight mental illness.

Dr. Scott Hadland is the Chief Medical Officer of Adolescent Medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School (@DrScottHadland on Twitter and Instagram). Dr. Kathryn Brigham is the medical director of the Teenage Eating Disorders Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School.

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Study finds a downward trend in buprenorphine misuse among U.S. adults with opioid use disorder



Data from a nationwide representative survey shows that in 2019, nearly three-quarters of US adults who used buprenorphine had not abused the drug in the past 12 months. In addition, buprenorphine abuse among people with opioid use disorder declined between 2015 and 2019, although the number of people receiving buprenorphine treatment increased. The study, published today on the JAMA Network Open, was conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Buprenorphine is an FDA-approved drug used to treat opioid use disorders and to relieve severe pain. Buprenorphine, used to treat opioid use disorders, works by partially activating opioid receptors in the brain, which can help reduce opioid cravings, withdrawal, and general use of other opioids.

In 2020, more than 93,000 people lost their lives to drug overdoses, with 75% of those deaths being caused by an opioid. In 2019, however, fewer than 18% of people with last year’s opioid use disorder were receiving medication to treat their addiction, in part because of stigma and barriers to accessing those medications. To prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use disorders, doctors must do so as part of a certified opioid treatment program or submit a letter of intent to the federal government, and the number of patients they can treat at the same time is limited. Only a small fraction of doctors are authorized to treat an opioid use disorder with buprenorphine, and even fewer prescribe the drug.

Quality medical practice requires the provision of safe and effective treatments for health conditions, including substance use disorders. This includes providing life-saving drugs to people with an opioid use disorder. This study provides further evidence of the need for expanded access to proven treatment approaches such as buprenorphine therapy, despite the remaining stigma and prejudice that persists in people with addiction and the drugs used to treat them. “

Nora D. Volkow, MD, NIDA director

In April 2021, the U.S. Department of Health released updated guidelines for buprenorphine practice to expand access to treatment for opioid use disorders. However, barriers to the use of this treatment persist, including doctor’s discomfort in treating patients with opioid use disorder, the lack of adequate insurance coverage, and concerns about the risks of distraction, abuse, and overdose. Abuse is defined as patients taking medication in a manner not recommended by one doctor and may include consuming someone else’s prescription medication or taking their own prescriptions in larger quantities, more frequent doses, or for a longer duration than directed.

To better understand buprenorphine use and abuse, researchers analyzed data on prescription opioid use and abuse, including buprenorphine, from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) 2015-2019. The NSDUH is conducted annually by the Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. It provides representative data on prescription opioid use, abuse, opioid use disorder, and motivation for recent abuse in the civil, non-institutionalized US population nationwide.

The researchers found that nearly three-quarters of US adults who reported using buprenorphine in 2019 had not abused buprenorphine in the past 12 months. In total, an estimated 1.7 million people reported taking buprenorphine as prescribed in the past year, compared to 700,000 people who reported using the drug. In addition, the proportion of patients with opioid use disorder who have abused buprenorphine has tended to decline over the study period, although the number of patients who received buprenorphine treatment has increased recently.

Importantly, in adults with an opioid use disorder, the most common reasons for recent buprenorphine abuse were “because I am addicted to opioids” (27.3%), suggesting that people are using buprenorphine over the counter for self-treatment of cravings and withdrawal may have symptoms related to an opioid use disorder and “to relieve physical pain” (20.5%). In addition, adults who took buprenorphine were less likely to have buprenorphine abuse among those who received drug treatment than those who did not. Taken together, these results illustrate the urgent need to expand access to buprenorphine treatment, as receiving treatment can help reduce buprenorphine abuse. In addition, strategies need to be developed to further monitor and reduce buprenorphine abuse.

The study also found that people who did not receive drug treatment and those who lived in rural areas were more likely to abuse drugs. However, other factors, such as belonging to a racial / ethnic minority or living in poverty, did not influence buprenorphine abuse. The study authors suggested that addressing the current opioid crisis should improve both the access to and quality of buprenorphine treatment for people with opioid use disorder.

“Three-quarters of adults taking buprenorphine do not abuse the drug,” said Wilson Compton, MD, MPE, NIDA associate director and lead author on the study. “Many people with opioid use disorder need help, and as clinicians we need to treat their condition. Use disorder can access this life-saving drug.”


National Health Institute

Journal reference:

Han, B., et al. (2021) Trends and Characteristics of Buprenorphine Abuse Among Adults in the United States. JAMA network open.

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