Category Archives: adolescents and young adults


According to 2018 and 2019 student surveys from the American College Health Association (ACHA), about 60% of respondents felt “overwhelming” anxiety, while 40% experienced depression so severe they had difficulty functioning.

A 2019 Pennsylvania State University study noted that demand for campus mental health services increased by 35-40% during a period that saw only a 5% increase in enrollment.

Anxiety and depression represent only some of the prevalent mental health issues experienced by college students. Others include serious problems like suicide, eating disorders, abusive relationships, and addiction. Mental health professionals stress the importance of talking about such issues, but students may lack the time, energy, will, and/or money to seek the support they need. Outreach and education are vital.

Here are some signs of depression to look for in friends:
They are not enjoying activities they once loved
They no longer attend classes or social outings are experiencing extreme anger or sadness over a relationship in their life
They react negatively or with apathy to most things
They often talk about death or suicide

Words of encouragement show your friend you are a source of support. Avoid telling your friends to “cheer up” or “snap out of it.” Many people experiencing depression are aware of their condition, and telling them to get over it is not helpful.

If you feel your friend is at risk, gently encourage them to seek help and offer to accompany them to a student health center or a doctor’s appointment. While talking through their issues with you may be helpful, it is not a substitute for treatment.

People who have depression often feel as if they are alone and have no one to turn to. But it’s important to understand that isn’t the case, as people care and want to help. People with depression also have resources at their disposal that they may not know about.

For example, the following organizations are dedicated to providing resources for those living with depression.

This organization promotes the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, and related disorders. Its website offers insight into understanding depressive mental illnesses, provides links for those seeking help, and identifies mobile apps designed to help people living with depressive illnesses.

This online resource is for college students seeking mental health wellness. It provides tips on how to help friends in crisis and ideas for developing better wellness habits.

ACHA promotes healthy campus communities and is a principal leadership organization for advancing the health of college students. The organization’s website provides helplines, brochures on different types of depression, and external links.

This foundation offers online resources designed to promote emotional health and prevent suicide among college students.

This initiative identifies warning signs through social media. The Half of Us campaign promotes mental health awareness nationally through on-air and live events and connects students with healthcare providers.

Your friend may have an anxiety disorder if they display these behaviors:
Have experienced a tragic event and do not develop healthy coping habits
Appear to live in constant fear of failure — academically or socially
Are uncomfortable and extremely anxious in social atmospheres
Have trouble concentrating or seem to have a blank mind
Seem plagued with guilt or stress
Have visible panic attacks

Avoid criticizing or belittling the severity of your friend’s symptoms and encourage them to try coping strategies that avoid causing further anxiety. Encourage your friend to visit a campus healthcare or counseling center and discuss their troubles with a professional. With their permission, you might be able to contact their parent. Some of the college student referrals I receive come from friends and roommates who got worried and told their friend’s parents about their concerns.

The following organizations are excellent resources for students with anxiety disorders.

ADAA promotes the prevention, treatment, and cure of anxiety, depression, and related disorders. The association’s website offers insight into how to better understand depressive mental illnesses. Additionally, it suggests several mobile apps that cater to users with depressive illnesses.

APA is dedicated to advancing the creation, communication, and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society. Its website offers insight into the differences between anxiety disorders and depression, as well as tools to help you locate a psychologist.

ARC is a nonprofit dedicated to offering assistance to those who have anxiety disorders. Its website features a lengthy list of education materials, a newsletter, and a blog to help visitors stay updated on breakthroughs in research and trends.

This nonprofit maintains resources for people with social anxiety. Its website provides links to support groups, information on how to find health professionals, news and updates on the disorder, and extensive information on treatment options.

Suicidal people may talk about feeling trapped, feeling as if they are a burden to others, feeling like they have no reason to go on, and ending their lives.

What to watch for if you feel your friend or roommate is at risk:
If a person talks about:
Being a burden to others
Feeling trapped
Experiencing unbearable pain
Having no reason to live

Specific behaviors to look out for include:
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means
Acting recklessly
Withdrawing from activities
Isolating from family and friends
Sleeping too much or too little
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving away prized possessions

People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following
Loss of interest

ADAA recommends these steps to take if you suspect someone you know is suicidal:
Ask them directly, “Are you considering killing yourself?” This may seem blunt. However, according to ADAA, studies show that this question does not increase the likelihood of suicidal thoughts, and it’s an important foundation for the next steps.

Make safety a priority. If they answer positively to step one, ask them if they have a plan. While it may not be easy, removing lethal objects and items in the dorm or home, such as guns, can also make a big difference.

Be there for them. Sometimes the most you can do for someone is simply to be there for them when they need you. Listen to what they have to say. Acknowledge and talk to them about the realities of suicide. According to ADAA, this can reduce suicidal thoughts.

Give them the tools to help themselves. Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number — (800) 273-8255 — in your phone. If possible, also save this number in your friend’s phone.

Remain in contact. Staying in contact makes a big difference and can potentially save the life of an at-risk person.

Executive functioning and COVID-19

Many of you are excellent teachers, and probably didn’t know it. I’m a clinical psychologist of 23 years with a neural science background, and I have worked with children and teens every one of those years. I have literally met and spoken in detail with thousands of children and families. They are MY teachers.

When you show your kids that they, and you, don’t wear masks, don’t social distance, hang out in public places, pick fun over health, and disregard safety of others,  you are teaching LOTS. 

  • Rules don’t apply to you.
  • Impulse control doesn’t matter, do what YOU wanna do.
  • Being uncomfortable, physically or emotionally, is just too hard.
  • Fun before safety.
  • Others don’t matter, it’s about you.
  • You are healthy right now, so why worry. 
  • Emerging research doesn’t matter; it’s changing anyway, so it’s irrelevant.
  • Uncertainty is unbearable.
  • Everyone else is doing it, so why not.

Unfortunately, children with their developing frontal lobes do not apply these rules, which are aspects of executive functioning, to a single situation. They are generalized and integrated at the neuronal level. They are learning, growing beings.

[“But Doctor, Junior will not follow basic household rules. They only think about themselves. And she goes out every weekend and does risky things. It’s so frustrating.”]


Obviously, there are many families working hard, and I mean hard, to keep others and themselves safe. I know it’s not easy, I hear from you every day. Big respect. There are also creative solutions. May you all have a healthy summer and fall.

Distracted?  Try these study tips.

These are study tips I share with patients who have ADHD and trouble with planning, organizing and staying on top of tasks.  And these same suggestions would be beneficial for most students and learning styles.

Review Before Bed
Studies show that you remember more when you take 10 to 15 minutes just before you go to sleep to review what you studied or learned earlier in the day. This doesn’t mean that students should do all their studying at bedtime, but reviewing what they have studied allows students to process the information as he or she sleeps (consolidation of short term memory into long-term).

Don’t Cram
Space out studying over time.  A small window of study, daily, leads to greater encoding of information.  Those who cram often report great difficulty bringing the information to mind when they need to retrieve it.

Exercise Sharpens Focus
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day, four to five days a week, improves focus and executive functioning skills, especially in students with attention issues. If you are a student athlete, try to study after an event. Consider studying right after practice, too.  Although any aerobic exercise will do the job, the most helpful exercises for students with distractibility are dance, yoga, and tai chi, all of which require students to focus on their body AND their mind.

Meditation can help sharpen focus and clear brain fog when distracted.  Several meditation apps are available, including headspace, Calm, and Buddhify (these are available for iPhone and android).

Most people need to sleep eight to nine hours a night to retain (consolidate) memories, but teenagers and young adults need more. Thirty-minute afternoon naps can help. Be sure these siestas aren’t any longer than 30 minutes, since extended naps can interfere with sleep cycles at night.

Taking a break helps all learn more, especially those with ADHD. Studies show that students remember more when they take breaks between study sessions instead of studying straight through for an extended period. Having downtime enables a student’s brain to review information and material, even when she doesn’t know she’s processing it.  Use your smartphone to set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes. During these breaks, do something active, such as walk around the house, stretch, or go outside.

Sip a Sugary Drink
A drink that contains some sugar helps homework performance. Sugary drinks provide glucose, which is the primary source of fuel to the brain. If you’re low on glucose, you won’t be able to focus or perform well.

Sipping Gatorade or apple juice slowly delivers glucose, without overloading your system with sugar. Sodas and other drinks with high levels of sugar (up to 10 teaspoons) provide too much glucose, which results in a sugar crash later, impairing memory and clouding thinking. So a slow release of glucose can bring improved focus and mood.

Smartphones are built with every organizational tool imaginable. At the beginning of the semester, put all the important dates into your calendar and use the alerts to remind you in advance. Set recurring alarms to wake you up or remind you to go to class. Use memo reminders, calendars, and lists to remember deadlines for assignments and exams.

ADD students have the unique ability to hyper-focus. As such, you run the risk of finding yourself so caught up in a task that you completely miss your 2 o’clock class. Set alarms for everything! Also, when studying, put your phone in airplane mode to minimize distractions like emails, texts, or social media pushes.

Identify what distracts you
As Socrates echoed, “Know thyself.” Does your mind wander in utter silence? If so, avoid the library. For some students, a quiet room with the occasional sound, like coughing, page turning, or whispers is more distracting than a noisy environment where they can tune everything out. If this is you, find a restaurant, café, or coffee shop that has Wifi and study there.

Do you need utter silence? Find a private study room in the library. If you have a hard time sitting still, a private study room will allow you to pace while you study without feeling like other people are looking at you.

Do you find yourself remembering other tasks, like mailing a letter or taking laundry out of the dryer? The key is to figure out what distracts you and avoid those environments. It may be a trial and error process, but keep trying different settings while evaluating your productivity.

Make lists
Studies show that the distracted brain has a difficult time prioritizing. Sit down and make a list of everything that needs to get done. Don’t worry about the order. Go over your list a second time and number the tasks in order of importance.

If you have a large assignment, write out all the steps. This will help divide the task up into manageable chunks so that you are not overloaded with everything all at once. This will help you set realistic goals for yourself.

Write down stray thoughts
Our natural instinct is to find an escape route from unpleasant tasks. Menial things, like thinking about returning an email, checking text messages, or wondering what your dog is doing at home, pop into our minds and it is a temptation to do them “real quick” so that we don’t forget. Don’t fall into the trap.

Write down the fleeting, distracting thoughts. The brain is programmed to keep things that we don’t want to forget in the forefront of our mind, which crowds out the information you are trying to learn. These thoughts can easily bounce around, distracting you from the task at hand.

Any stray idea that you feel the need to address, just write it down. Get it all out. It’ll clear your mind so that you can concentrate on your work; if it’s written down, it won’t have to stay on your mind!

Move around!
Get-up-and-move.  This is a particular problem for those with distraction—sitting still can be hard. When studying, find a place where you don’t feel self-conscious moving around. Repetitive movements, like pacing back and forth or rocking in a chair can help you to concentrate and better retain information.

If you are attending classes in person, talk to your professor at the beginning of the semester and explain that you might need to stand at the back of the room occasionally. However, avoid doing anything that will overtly distract the other students, like tapping your pencil or sitting in a squeaky chair if you have keep changing position.

OHIO Principle
When given something to do, complete it immediately if it all possible, rather than putting it down to do later. Follow the Ohio principle: Only Handle It Once. Avoid the stress of paper shuffling.

Tension and stress undermine the memory process especially in terms of recall. If you find yourself tense up or get panicked when you first sit down with an exam or assignment, close the book, take a few deep breaths and calm your nerves. Use positive self talk like, “I studied well for this test, I will know at least some of the answers.”

Make it multi-sensory.
The more senses incorporated during the learning process, the more deeply the memory is encoded. Hearing and seeing the information is always better than just one or the other. Hearing, seeing, and having a tactile experience with the information is even better.

Translate information into your own words. This is a great one to do when looking through notes, studying for a test, or reading a book. Talk to yourself, or tell the info to a friend or family member.

The more you repeat the information, the better the consolidation, and the more efficient the storing and retrieving. One of the best ways to do this is by making flash cards. The following programs help individuals create flashcards on line: Quizlet, StudyBlue, and FlashCardMachine.

Visualization strategies are extremely effective in remembering information. When listening to a story, make a movie in your head to play out that story. If trying to associate one person or concept with someone or something else, make up an image that places these two things together.

Chunk Information.
This is particularly important when studying. To avoid overload, study one section at a time so that you can consolidate that information before adding more information. When taking a reading comprehension test, stop after reading each paragraph to scan the questions and see which ones you can answer based on the paragraph you just read.

Back to School Strategies

As summer wanes, many students (and parents) feel the excitement, the anticipation, and yes, the nervousness: The First Day of School.  It can be fraught. Small changes  can make a difference.


  • Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine BEFORE the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Catching the bus, carpooling, or driving with parents require planning. Organizing things at home — backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money — will help make the first morning go smoothly. I recommend checking the weather and putting out clothes for the next day the night before.
  • Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom if they are transitioning or going to a new school will help ease anxiety of the unknown. Many schools have orientations and practice days. Use them.
  • Knowledge is important. Some of the most common fears that I hear:
    • Not being able to find their classroom
    • Not being able to find the restroom
    • Not being able to open their locker
    • Not having the right textbooks or school supplies.
    • Not knowing where their bus is.
    • Being late between classes.
    • Most middle and high schools now have alternating schedules, such as A and B days, which can potentially create confusion and anxiety for many students.
  • Talk to your child: Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share concerns.
  • Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.
  • Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad.


  • Figure out study space. A well-stocked desk in a quiet place at home can be key, but sometimes you need variety. Coffee shops, libraries, parks, study hall, or even just moving to the kitchen table will give you a change of scenery which can prompt your brain to retain information better.
  • Track more than homework in a school planner. I believe in a master planner with at least four categories, and four ink colors to mark them:
    1. School deadlines including exams, projects, quizzes, SAT and college stuff dates, and in large assignments.
    2. Social events, including time with friends and family.
    3. Athletics and extracurriculars, including practice, games, rehearsals, meetings, team building, and volunteering.
    4. Lastly, self-care. You have to write down doctors appointments, haircuts, therapy, exercise, school holidays, and even scheduled downtime like specific movies, events, or concerts.
  • Establish a Morning Routine. Figure out how much time you need everyday to get dressed, do your makeup, eat breakfast, etc. That way, you will know exactly when to wake up, and if you could have a snooze or two before that. Without being late.
  • Organize Your Backpack the night before. An organized backpack will make it so much easier to grab what you’re looking for when you get to class. Sometimes, students can work hard on assignments, and forgot to pack your backpack with what they need for the day
  • De-Clutter Your Room. When all the stuff you no longer use is removed, and when you’re not worried about finding what you need, your brain will feel clearer too.
  • Write Things Down. Your brain is full with your busy life. Take two minutes each morning to get all your thoughts on paper. Put down everything you want to do for the day. Once it’s all out of your head, it’s easier to tell what your biggest goals are for the day and prioritize from there. It’s a great way to de-stress and make the day look less intimidating.
  • Eat breakfast or bring snacks to school. If you plan this before hand, it makes it much easier not to hit the wall with the Hangries. Your brain needs fuel. School is an intense job.
Embolden Psychology

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.