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How to address your teen’s sadness and hopelessness

New research shows that more teens are saying they’re feeling hopeless and alone, and mental health experts say that can lead to problems like drug abuse.

AUSTIN, Texas — It isn’t always easy to be a teen. These days, it seems the lives of American teenagers are more difficult than ever.

A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control confirms that mental health is getting worse among high school students. Nearly half – 44% – say they experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness last year, a sharp increase over previous surveys.

Adolescent and family psychologist Dr. Adolph Brown says kids are losing faith in their future.

"Most people assume that the future will be better than the past, and especially young people," Dr. Brown said. "And that's not necessarily the case today. There are many young people who have a gloom-and-doom attitude regarding our future – whether it's climate change, whether it's continuous fallout from the pandemic, whether it's the polarization that's occurring in our society, both politically, culturally and racially. So there are many variables that are contributing to the rise in mental health issues for teens today."

RELATED: Lack of 'likes' leads to emotional distress among teens, UT researchers say

Like some of the teens he helps, Doc Brown, as he’s known, grew up in poverty in a large family, yet went on to college and earned several degrees.

He attributes his accomplishments to a family that never gave up on him, something that he urges all parents to do.

"Have faith in your children," he said. "Believe in them. Don't give up on them. Let them know there's nothing they could ever do to make you stop loving. Let them know that also have faith and schools. They're doing the best they can. Have faith in our society. Have faith in our country."

Faith in the future is sometimes hard to come by. But, he says, it’s an important start.

And so is making time for your kids.

"I want parents to just hang out with your kids," he said. "Sit with them. If you're playing video games, you may not be interested, but check it out. See what they're doing, play board games, do something. Go for a walk, do something together."

And as for teenagers who face the challenges of loneliness and isolation?

"I would like people to know, particularly young people, that it's OK not to be OK," he said. "It's OK not to be OK, but just know that things will eventually be OK."

RELATED: After tempting fate many times, an Austin teen hopes to use her story of recovery to help others


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