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Supporting Teen Mental Health During a Pandemic

Supporting Teen Mental Health During a Pandemic

Written By: Todd W. Mandell, MD and Rhonda Waller, PhD

The global COVID-19 pandemic is casting new urgency on the topic of teen mental health. Adolescence is already a time of significant physical, mental, emotional, and social development. It is normal for teens to experience a wide range of emotions and unpredictable moods. The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new set of  challenges as teens navigate disruptions to their usual school, extracurricular, and social routines due to lockdowns, social distancing restrictions, and uncertainty about the future. According to a review of relevant research published in June 2020, many teens may experience isolation and loneliness which could lead to or exacerbate feelings of depression and anxiety. Currently, there is little data that examines the impact of pandemics such as COVID-19 on teens’ mental health, though some researchers are starting to explore this topic. Oxford University recently initiated a study that will track adolescents’ mental health to identify factors that hinder and promote resilience during the pandemic. In the meantime, we know that rates of teen depression and anxiety have risen during the past decade.

A 2019 study that examined National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data found that from 2005 to 2017, the percentage of adolescents (12 to 17 years old) experiencing at least one major depressive episode increased from 8.7 percent to 13.01 percent—a 52% increase. In 2018, the rate was 14.4 percent—roughly 3.5 million adolescents. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly one-third (32 percent) of adolescents 13-18 years old experience an anxiety disorder. A 2018 study that examined data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (2003, 2007 and 2011-2012) found that anxiety similarly appears to be on the rise.

While there is no conclusive answer for why teen depression and anxiety are rising, some common themes in research include:

  • Increased awareness about mental health issues might increase disclosure of symptoms and identification of mental health disorders.
  • Continuous exposure to social media and news that may have an adverse impact on teen’s mental health.
  • Increased social and academic pressures and expectations for youth may contribute to depression and anxiety.

In addition, health inequities and social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status, education, social support networks, and access to health care can influence adolescent mental health.

The bottom line, however, is that mental health disorders are a real concern for teens—and the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate these issues for some youth. Left untreated, mental health disorders can have a lifelong impact on health. Parents, teachers, coaches, and others who interact with teens should stay alert for signs of anxiety and depression. Warning signs and symptoms may include:

  • Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
  • Avoiding school, activities, and social interactions with friends and family
  • Changes in grades
  • Trouble sleeping/concentrating
  • Engaging in self-harming or risky behaviors such as substance abuse
  • Chronic physical complaints
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Increased irritability or moodiness

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ parenting website offers  practical information from child health experts on how to support teens’ mental health  during the COVID-19 pandemic, including strategies for healthy routines, effective communication, safe virtual connections, family support, and physical and emotional health. However, parents who observe or are concerned about signs of depression or anxiety in their teen should discuss this with their pediatrician or a health care provider. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has also compiled a comprehensive list of Resources to Support Adolescent Mental Health. In addition, the National Institute of Mental Health recommends that teens save several emergency numbers in their cell phones to ensure immediate help for themselves or a friend in an emergency—including the non-emergency local police department number, the Crisis Text Line (741741) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK).

From a public health perspective, increased screening for depression and anxiety and access to health care could result in earlier detection and treatment, which is particularly important during the pandemic. Many experts, including the U.S. Prevention Screening Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend annual screening of teens for depression. Most insurance companies are now covering telehealth visits at the same rate as in-person visits, which may make screening and services more accessible for teens needing treatment. With growing awareness of the effects of the pandemic on mental health, it is now even more important that teens experiencing depression and anxiety get timely screening and treatment to improve their outcomes.

Todd W. Mandell, MD, Senior Associate, Addiction Medicine. Todd Mandell is a board-certified Psychiatrist with added qualifications in Addiction Medicine, and more than 30 years of experience in the field of co-occurring psychiatric and substance use disorders with a focus on direct patient service, program development, and administration. (LinkedIn)

Rhonda Waller, PhD, Senior Associate, Maternal and Child Health. Rhonda Waller is a psychologist with more than 25 years of professional experience in public health, education, and human services with an emphasis on program development, leadership development, capacity building, and training and technical assistance. (LinkedIn)

The Bizzell Group (Bizzell) was founded by President & CEO Anton C. Bizzell, M.D., a leading behavioral health expert and former Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Bizzell’s team of public health experts have created and led comprehensive behavioral health prevention and treatment initiatives and education and training programs. Bizzell’s recent work includes systematic, integrated approaches designed to effect lasting change in health and behavioral health care through work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Department of Defense (DOD). Learn more about how Bizzell advances data-driven, research-informed, innovative solutions to solve complex-real-world challenges:

Bizzell CEO Joins U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Advisory Board

Bizzell CEO Joins U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Advisory Board

Dr. Bizzell was invited to join the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) Advisory Board. This appointment follows his Fellow support where he advised the Foundation’s 2019 Sharing Solutions initiative, a campaign focused on business solutions to the opioid epidemic. The USCCF is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness, educating the public on the conditions necessary for businesses and communities to thrive, showing how business positively impacts communities, and showing how emerging issues and creative solutions will shape the future. The Advisory Board is made up of leaders from some of the world’s most successful companies and leading Chambers of Commerce in the United States, and Dr. Bizzell is proud to leverage his experience as a small business owner to advise the work of the Foundation.

The USCCF is dedicated to strengthening America’s long-term competitiveness. They educate the public on the conditions necessary for businesses and communities to thrive, how business positively impacts communities, and emerging issues and creative solutions that will shape the future.

Strategies to Reduce Anxiety and Depression During COVID-19

Strategies to Reduce Anxiety and Depression During COVID-19

Written by: Randolph Edmead

The global COVID-19 pandemic has had profound social, economic, and health effects. A recent study found that 56% of U.S. adults reported that worry or stress related to the pandemic has caused them to experience at least one negative effect related to mental health and wellbeing.  Physical distancing to reduce spread of COVID-19 increases social isolation and creates new challenges for individuals experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Some of the most prevalent concerns people have reported about managing during the COVID-19 pandemic are uncertainty about the future, not having control over the virus and its effects, and the economic ramifications of the pandemic. With widespread job loss, and the potential for the virus to cause serious illness and death, these concerns are not unfounded. The pandemic is having a significant effect on those who have not previously struggled with mental health issues, and the effects are exacerbated for those who have. As with other traumatic events, it has taken an exceptional toll on frontline health care workers and first responders.

The American Psychological Association says that it is critical to maintain social support and connections during physical distancing, and that it is important to know the signs of anxiety and depression so that individuals who may be experiencing these challenges can get timely help.

Signs of anxiety include:

  • Persistent worry, feeling overwhelmed by emotions
  • Excessive worry about a number of concerns, general sense that something bad is going to happen
  • Restlessness, irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, feeling on edge

Signs of depression include:

  • Lack of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Lack of energy or difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

One unexpected consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic may be that the increased media attention on the mental health effects of the crisis is helping to reduce the stigma of talking about mental health issues. A new social media campaign through , “How are You, Really?”, aims to decrease the stigma of mental health issues by encouraging people to safely share their stories to show others that they are not alone.

Tips for Staying Mentally Healthy

The Director Dr. Joshua Gordon provides 5 tips for staying mentally healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak, which are timely for individuals struggling with anxiety or depression, as well as for those who are simply looking for positive strategies to cope with the challenges of the pandemic:

  • Avoid using alcohol or other drugs as coping mechanisms.
  • Maintain routines for meals, exercise, and sleep. Try to stay active.
  • Explore wellness programs, like meditation, yoga, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises.
  • Stay connected. Talk by phone. Chat outside while maintaining recommended social distance. Join online gatherings.
  • Seek help right away if you have trouble coping or feel overwhelmed.

The Bizzell Group (Bizzell) was founded by President & CEO Anton C. Bizzell, M.D., a leading behavioral health expert and former Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Bizzell’s recent work includes systematic, integrated approaches designed to effect lasting change in the field of behavioral health through work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Learn more about how we develop data-driven, research-informed, innovative solutions to advance mental health, behavioral health, and other complex-real-world challenges:

The Virtual Pivot: Transforming Your In-Person Meetings to Successful Virtual Events

The Virtual Pivot: Transforming Your In-Person Meetings to Successful Virtual Events

Written by: Almeda Kyser

Virtual events are the new norm. With travel restrictions due to COVID-19, many organizations are rethinking how they disseminate information, build communities online, and engage users. As businesses rush to transform the workplace to accommodate these new demands, virtual workspaces are growing through the use of innovative digital tools and platforms.

But it takes more than digital products to craft an innovative solution to conferences and meetings in the current pandemic. Pulling off a successful virtual event that effectively brings teams and clients together from across the country or around the globe requires strategy, customized technology, and detailed project management.

Virtual meetings can generate higher participation and engagement than in-person meetings regardless of size, with careful attention to the logistical challenges of hosting an event. The Bizzell Group’s (Bizzell) Conference Management and Logistical Support team developed the following list of best practices to help clients and partners transform their in-person meetings to successful virtual events.


Strategy drives the meeting planning process and is the critical element when pivoting to virtual events. It is important to ensure that meeting stakeholders’ perspectives are considered in defining the elements of a successful event outcome, and in choosing the set of virtual tools to deliver that outcome.

  • Set clear goals and objectives for the meeting.
  • Determine which components will be a part of your virtual event: for example, general sessions, breakout sessions, posters, trade show, and networking sessions.
  • Choose a virtual strategy that will help you meet the goals and objectives of your meeting and is aligned with the needs of the audience.
  • Develop a detailed work plan that will create a clear path towards meeting the goals and objectives.


How you deliver the content is just as important as the content itself. The medium really is the message when it comes to virtual meetings. Choose the medium that best meets your audience’s needs — whether it is a webinar to share PowerPoints with a large group, or a teleconference for your weekly team check-in.

  • Webinars/Video Conferences/Virtual Events
    • Webinars allow participants to join from anywhere and view presentations from one or more speakers. Most webinars allow participants to view speakers with video conferencing, ask questions with chat features, provide feedback with polling tools, and use closed captioning. Since webinars allow you to present live or pre-recorded events, be sure to post recorded presentations to your website
    • To enhance the participant experience and innovate your virtual conference, consider creating a virtual world and use a virtual reality system. 3D virtual event platforms are lifelike environments that best match your event’s audience and mimic the dynamics of a physical conference.
    • There are many tools for webinars and virtual events, such as Zoom, Adobe Connect, RingCentral, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, Crowdcast, Intrado, Webex, GoToMeeting, GoToWebinar, Google Meet, GlobalMeet and JoinMe. Each offers a variety of tools and features to enhance the overall experience. An experienced Meeting Planner can help you choose the best program for your needs.
  • Teleconferences/Phone
    • Teleconferences allow participants to join an audio call from anywhere. They are accessible through landline, smart device, and computer, making them a good choice to reach a wide variety of participants in multiple locations with varying technology.
    • Many platforms for webinars and virtual events also offer teleconferencing capacity. Check with each platform to evaluate their features and ensure the best fit for your teleconference.
  • Hybrid Events
    • Hybrid events are held for participants unable to travel or attend an in-person event such as town hall meetings, trainings, department meetings or conferences. These events require very high-level video production equipment and online requirements for virtual participants. When successfully implemented, they can offer participants nearly the same experience as in-person attendance.


Maintain a Standard Operating Procedures checklist that can be used and customized across all types of meetings and at every venue, whether virtual or in person. Make this a living document that will guide and develop meeting plans before, during, and after an event, and serve as a record of lessons learned that will track data and drive continuous improvement.

  • Set clear goals for your virtual event and share those goals in your messaging before, during, and after the event.
  • Determine the appropriate platform and technology for your event based on the goals and objectives, and the event components.
  • Design every detail of the meeting, script out every phase in advance, and schedule a dry run rehearsals of all elements including the technology platform.   
  • Always have a plan to prepare for disruptions or glitches that may occur during the meeting. Assign staff to be in charge of managing this aspect of your event.


The success of many events is determined by the quality of the speakers. Preview the speakers before the event and check out reviews from their past presentations. Discuss the meeting goals with the speakers and ensure the content will be focused on the needs of participants and the event.

  • Recruit dynamic speakers who present great content that is relevant to the goals of the event. Content is key, and the content and delivery need to capture and keep your audience’s attention.
  • Recruit speakers who are experienced in virtual formats and have an active plan to engage the virtual audience.


Audience engagement is more important than ever in the new virtual environment. Technology offers exciting opportunities to reach participants in new ways.

  • Create an interactive, meaningful experience by incorporating activities like gamification to keep the audience excited about learning.
  • Leverage digital collaboration tools such as white boards to increase engagement.
  • Incorporate creative tools such as Word Clouds and breakout room discussions and have participants report back to the larger group.
  • Include participant polling and chat box responses during the meeting to enhance engagement and invite feedback. 
  • Keep real-time notes of audience discussion, and invite the audience to recap key themes, takeaways, and next steps at key junctures throughout the meeting.


Audience feedback after the event is the key to making data-driven improvements. With expertly crafted survey instruments, meaningful insights will increase opportunities for success.

  • Analyze participant polling collected during the meeting, to assess real-time engagement and tracking towards meeting goals. 
  • Design post-event surveys to capture meaningful metrics and drive data analytics, such as speaker feedback, digital platform accessibility, participant engagement, achievement of meeting goals, and opportunities for quality improvement.

With a clear strategy, customized technology, and detailed project management, virtual events offer new opportunities to keep groups of all sizes engaged with focused content and active tools to bring meetings to life. Bizzell has successfully orchestrated webinars, virtual conferences, teleconferences, and hybrid events ranging from thousands of participants, to small groups of high-level decision-makers.


Do you need innovative solutions and assistance converting your in-person events to virtual meetings? Contact Bizzell’s team of event planning experts to support your conference and event planning needs.