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The Youth Mental Health Crisis Needs Our Attention

Living through a pandemic has brought about many new behaviors, situations, and expectations. We once moved through the world together, in offices, on trains, in restaurants, coffee shops, at sporting events and concerts. We looked forward to seeing our friends and family and centered our down time on making sure we had time with them. We once walked into the coffee shops or bakeries by our offices and shared greetings and smiles. We would run into each other on the train or stop at an acquaintance’s table as we walked through a restaurant. We would shake hands with a stranger, share a smile and high five the people in the seats next to us at a sporting event. Over the past two and a half years we have lost these vital interactions. These interactions define our humanity and with the loss of them we start to lose ourselves and suffer mental and emotional consequences. The expectation for being a social human being has shifted. The expectation now is that we stay away from one another, and fear being exposed to each other. We no longer touch each and now stay at least six feet apart with the lower portion of our faces covered. The impact of these shifts and new expectations is yet to be fully felt.

This shift in behavior has been drastic and swift and especially effects young people. As a social worker and personal development coach I devote much of my practice to guiding young people to become more self-aware and self-confident. I currently focus all my time with young people on helping them work through their stress and anxiety. Everything I am doing is reactive to the current situation. Prior to the pandemic I led the Change Maker Workshop to a new group of young people monthly. I am now leading Teen Support Groups and Self-Discovery Workshops centered on providing young people with tools and strategies to manage stress and anxiety. Before experiencing the pandemic, teens were in crisis with 32% aged 13- 18 experiencing an anxiety disorder according to a 2017 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. The pandemic has brought about an increase in Emergency Department visits for depression and suicide attempts along with an increase in anxiety disorders. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), beginning in April 2020, the proportion of children’s mental health related ED visits among all pediatric ED visits increased and remained elevated through October. Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health related visits for children aged 5–11 and 12–17 years increased approximately 24%. and 31%, respectively. This was already a severe crisis that was not getting enough attention. These numbers continue to rise with limited resources being allocated to address the severity.

On December 7, 2021 the U.S. Surgeon General released a statement attempting to alert the country to the threat to our children’s mental health. This warning was not picked up by mainstream media or blasted over social media. It was overshadowed by sloppy politics and misguided information being released about the COVID-19 virus and a total disregard for the real crisis we are facing as a country. The Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy clearly states, “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating.”

Our children are greatly effected by the pandemic and their current behaviors and behavior patterns exhibit this trauma. I have seen behavioral shifts in my own children along with the children I see in my practice. My 5th grade daughter text me from school two days ago to tell me her teacher was coughing, and it was making her uncomfortable. Coughing, squeezing, and sniffling were heard daily in classrooms and hardly noticed. We have made them scary and sources of discomfort and stress. Anything and everything that makes us social human beings is considered a potential threat and a source of stress and anxiety for our children. As parents we need to be aware of how the messaging from the pandemic is effecting our children by having conversations with them and supporting their social and emotional development. Do not expect schools to provide students with proper support. They simply do not have the resources. Plan family time, conversations, and dinners together that allow your children to express how they are feeling. Supported we can all successfully get through this crisis. It is a matter of recognizing our humanity and knowing that being together is necessary for the vitality of our mental health and overall well-being.

Please contact the team at Living Become for support. We are ready to get our community moving together again.


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