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Being lonely can affect teens — and people of other ages — in many ways. Lonely people may feel more stressed. They may feel tired even when they’ve slept. They might stop caring about hygiene and how they look. They might turn to alcohol or drugs to try to feel better. And feeling lonely and negative about life for a long time may contribute to long-term anxiety or depression.
Poor teen mental health is a growing problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2019, more than 1 in 3 American high school students said they had experienced lasting feelings of sadness or despair. That is a 40 percent increase from 2009.
And loneliness is a common problem worldwide. A study in the Journal of Adolescence showed that feelings of loneliness among teens climbed between 2012 and 2018 in 36 out of the 37 countries that were studied. Almost twice as many teens had feelings of elevated loneliness in 2018 compared to 2012. Teen girls showed the largest increase.
That study found that levels of loneliness in teens increased as cellphone and internet use increased. And other research findings also suggest that using certain types of technology, like smartphones or social media platforms, makes teens feel more alone. But other researchers have found that some technology-based efforts can help teens feel more connected to their peers. How teens use technology and social media can impact whether it makes them feel more or less lonely. And in some cases, age appears to make a difference.
Loneliness in teens often stems from common things like:
Whatever may be causing teens to feel lonely, there are steps parents and family members, and teens themselves, can take to help. And it’s vital that young people learn healthy ways to deal with feeling lonely.
The behavioral patterns people start in their teens help determine not only their current mental health, but also their chance of having long-term mental health issues during adulthood. Some mental health and social problems either start or peak during the adolescent (ages 10 to 17) and young adulthood (ages 18 to 25) years. Because they are still developing mentally and emotionally, teens and young adults are especially sensitive to social forces.
But teens can build resilience and learn how to make connections at school and home to improve their mental health. Helping them build strong bonds with others can help protect their mental health, a big part of their overall health.
Parents and family members can help by:
There are steps children and teens can take to improve how they feel. It starts by making sure they understand that all people feel lonely sometimes. Mental Health America suggests encouraging teens to:
If self-care steps don’t seem to make a difference, reach out to their doctor. The doctor may be able to help or suggest a therapist, counselor or psychologist who can help.
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