Our Children Are In A Mental Health Crisis

As parents, educators, family members, friends, and neighbors, most of us inherently smile when we hear children’s laughter and feel the infectious giggles in our own bellies.  Most of us yearn for our youth to feel a sense of accomplishment, happiness, and confidence.  If this is truly the case, how did we end up here, in a youth mental health crisis? 

In a country where the current waiting lists to see a child therapist is months long, parents shutter to turn on the news, and our youths’ brains are stressed out, burned out, and ready to check out, we look to mental health professionals for answers.   

In December 2021, US Attorney General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued a Surgeon General’s Advisory on youth mental health crisis, which has been compounded and further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  The past two years have had a detrimental impact on the mental health of all ages.  Financial hardship, family deaths, social isolation, academic hardships, and familial conflict, have left us with a life we could have never imagined.  

Is COVID-19 To Blame?

While we can easily blame the COVID-19 pandemic for our kids’ current mental health crisis, let’s be honest, we were not doing so well in pre-pandemic years.  Suicide rates increased by 24% from 1999 to 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with the increase occurring at a faster rate from 2006 to 2014. 

According to the World Health Organization in 2018 there was, on average, one suicide death every 20 seconds and one attempt every 1-2 seconds.  In 2022 suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19 year-olds.  There are a multitude of factors that predict one’s mental health functioning, including genetic loading, upbringing, social support, socioeconomic status, and behavioral tendencies, to name a few. 

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Are We Raising Children That Are Too Fragile?

Some may argue that every generation is faced with a unique set of stressors, and it is the resiliency we foster in our youth that enables them to cope when the going gets rough.  If this is true, are we raising children that are too fragile?  Or are our youth faced with unprecedented levels of stress that their underdeveloped brains and bodies simply cannot handle?  Maybe a little of both. 

When it comes to building resiliency, it appears that one of the downfalls of current parents is their inclination to solve problems, save, and do whatever is in their power to prevent their children from experiencing negative emotions.  How are our children supposed to learn to cope with anxiety, depression, and anger if they have such little opportunity to problem solve and self-soothe?  

Social Media Affects

Our youth have been under different kinds of stress and pressure that simply did not exist generations ago.  They are under parental microscopes, over scheduled, sleep deprived, and recipients of a social media craze. 

According to the National Center for Health Research, there is a clear association between time spent on social media, as well as the number of platforms used, and symptoms of anxiety and depression and sleep deprivation.  As many as 72% of teens say they have been cyberbullied, which is more strongly correlated with suicide than in-person bullying.  The 2021 Instagram leak also highlights this problem, where about one in three teen girls felt worse about their bodies after using the app, and about 14% of boys.

Signs To Lookout For In Our Children

Now that we are here, how can we help lift our precious youth out of this crisis?  First, it is important to recognize the signs of a problem.  While many symptoms of mental health disorders are covert and not obvious to those around them, there are some signs that parents and other involved adults should be alerted to. 

Social isolation, such as avoiding social gatherings, not spending time with family at home, spending excessive time alone in their bedroom, or refusing to attend events, is one common sign of depression or anxiety. 

Additional signs to lookout for are sleep disturbances (e.g., insomnia or excessive sleep/napping), lethargy, not experiencing pleasure or joy, appetite changes, drastic mood changes, and interpersonal difficulties.  It is important to note that each of these behaviors can be typical for children and adolescents.  You know your child best.  If you question any changes in their behaviors, reach out to a mental health professional for guidance. 

Validating your child or teen and offering nonjudgmental support is the first and most important step in helping them.  Let them know that their feelings are valid and show compassion toward them.  They all need a safe space to express emotions and allow themselves to be vulnerable. 

Connecting Your Child With Care

If you are concerned about your child or teen’s behaviors or mood, schedule a consultation with a mental health provider.  If you have questions, you can have one session without committing to long-term treatment.  While many private mental health practices continue to offer virtual services, many have started to reopen their doors for in-person sessions.  

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