3 takeaways about teen mental health from episode of ‘Breakdown with #StephAndSteve’

Key points from Stephania and Steve’s conversation with local mental health experts and a teen survivor

SAN ANTONIO – The April 14 episode of “Breakdown with #StephAndSteve” focused on how the pandemic has affected teenagers’ mental health and what parents can do to help their children.

Hosts Stephania Jimenez and Steve Spriester were joined by Geoff Gentry, PhD., senior vice president of clinical services at Clarity; Talli Dolge, MS Ed., CEO of Mobile Mental Wellness Collaborative and senior vice president of school and community partnerships for Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute; Demonte Alexander, San Antonio-based public affairs consultant; and Ainsley, a junior in high school who’s struggled with mental health, including depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

Below are key points from Wednesday’s live stream. The full episode stream is available to watch in the player above.

1) The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the mental health of teenagers

Over the last two years, the pandemic has had a negative effect on the mental health of most teenagers.

According to the CDC, from February to March of 2021, suicide attempts were 50.6% higher among teen girls and 3.7% higher among teen boys. The CDC also reports that mental health-related emergency department visits for teenagers were up 31% in 2020 compared to 2019.

“I have seen kids, who without the pandemic, would have never needed to be seen by a mental health professional”, Gentry said.

Dolge says the pandemic was something hard for kids and teenagers to be able to comprehend.

“We have just been through the most unprecedented time of our lives,” Dolge said. “Kids were in isolation and they weren’t given the tools to navigate the life that we were living.”

Being isolated brought on by the pandemic also caused Ainsley to have suicidal thoughts while she was recovering from mental health issues and an eating disorder.

“Eleven months after, you know, the world shut down was the last time that I tried to take my life,” Ainsley said. “With isolation, you lose a sense of belonging and need and desire for in the world which completely damages your self-esteem and your self-worth.”

2) Parents should take time to listen to their children and make sure they are OK

It’s important for parents to take the time to listen to their children, but also reassure them it is OK to open up about how they are feeling.

“I think it’s just as important to be just as open as you can,” Gentry said. “It’s not what you tell the kid that matters, it’s what you help them say that maybe they haven’t said before.”

Alexander who is also a father and a veteran says telling your child the experiences you have gone through is a way to help them connect and make them feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

“Just tell your story, because stories change hearts and minds,” Alexander said. “The more you talk about it and express those things, the more they’re compelled to help or compelled to change.”

3) There is help, you are not alone

There are many resources available both locally and nationally for parents to get their children help if they believe they are struggling with mental health issues.

Below are some of the resources in San Antonio and the U.S.:

Local Resources

National Resources

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “SIGNS” to 741741
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

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About the Authors:

Landon Lowe is a news producer for KSAT 12. He previously worked at the NBC/Fox affiliate in Baton Rouge, LA, where he was the senior news producer and political producer.

Stephania Jimenez is an anchor on The Nightbeat. She began her journalism career in 2006, after graduating from Syracuse University. She's anchored at NBC Philadelphia, KRIS in Corpus Christi, NBC Connecticut and KTSM in El Paso. Although born and raised in Brooklyn, Stephania considers Texas home. Stephania is bilingual! She speaks Spanish.