Mental health disorders stand as a chief concern among American teenagers, according to researchers who said the pervasiveness of such illnesses weren’t a top worry decades ago.
Indeed, 30 years ago, most health experts reported that primary concerns about the teens included pregnancy, smoking, drunken driving, and binge drinking.
However, new statistics have revealed that in 2019, 13 percent of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode, which the Pew Research noted equated to a 60 percent increase from 2007.
The report revealed that emergency room visits by children and adolescents in that period also rose sharply for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm.
And for individuals age 10 to 24, suicide rates, stable from 2000 to 2007, leaped nearly 60 percent by 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Further, the mental health of Black American youth “was in crisis long before COVID-19 devastated the world, but no national public health crisis was called,” Dr. Amanda Calhoun, an adult/child psychiatry resident at Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, wrote for Med Page Today.
“In 2019, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health released a report documenting the alarming increases in Black youth suicide rates,” Dr. Calhoun noted.
“The suicide death rates among Black youth have been increasing faster than those of any other racial/ethnic group in America, and Black youth under 13 years old are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their white peers.”
Dr. Calhoun also cited preliminary federal data which noted the suicide rate for Black girls and women ages 10 to 24 increased more than 30 percent in 2020, and by 23 percent among Black boys and men in the same age group.
“Yet, many suicide predictor models continue to list ‘white race’ as a factor that increases risk of suicide, and the myth that Black youth do not commit suicide persists,” Dr. Calhoun reported.
During the pandemic, children, adolescents, and young adults have faced unprecedented challenges – the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed their world, including how they attend school, interact with friends, and receive health care.
According to a 52-page advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, children missed first days of school, months or even years of in-person schooling, graduation ceremonies, sports competitions, playdates, and time with relatives.
As of June 2021, more than 140,000 children in the U.S. had lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19.
Matt Richtel, a best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winning journalists at the New York Times, spent more than a year interviewing adolescents and their families for a series on the mental health crisis.
“In mid-April, I was speaking to the mother of a suicidal teenager whose struggles I’ve been closely following. I asked how her daughter was doing,” Richtel reported.
“Not well,” the mother said.
“If we can’t find something drastic to help this kid, this kid will not be here long-term.” Richtel said the mother started to cry.
“It’s out of our hands, it’s out of our control,” she said. “We’re trying everything.”
She added: “It’s like waiting for the end.”
Over nearly 18 months of reporting, Richtel said he got to know many adolescents and their families and interviewed dozens of doctors, therapists, and experts in the science of adolescence.
“I heard wrenching stories of pain and uncertainty. From the outset, my editors and I discussed how best to handle the identities of people in crisis,” he penned.
Richtel’s finding only amplified what medical experts have broadcast.
Since the pandemic began, there have been increases in the rates of psychological distress among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
“Recent research covering 80,000 youth globally found that depressive and anxiety symptoms doubled during the pandemic, with 25 percent of youth experiencing depressive symptoms and 20 percent experiencing anxiety symptoms,” Dr. Murthy wrote in his advisory.
Negative emotions or behaviors such as impulsivity and irritability – associated with conditions such as ADHD – appear to have moderately increased, according to the CDC.
Further, early clinical data also proved problematic.
In early 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51 percent higher for adolescent girls and 4 percent higher for adolescent boys compared to the same period in early 2019.
“Moreover, pandemic-related measures reduced in-person interactions among children, friends, social supports, and professionals such as teachers, school counselors, pediatricians, and child welfare workers,” Dr. Murthy wrote.
“This made it harder to recognize signs of child abuse, mental health concerns, and other challenges.”
The CDC further noted that young people also experienced other challenges that may have affected their mental and emotional well-being during the pandemic.
Those include the national reckoning over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police officers, including the murder of George Floyd.
It includes COVID-related violence against Asian Americans, gun violence, an increasingly polarized political dialogue, growing concerns about climate change, and emotionally charged misinformation.
“The pandemic has been challenging for most people, yet the teenage population, particularly females, have suffered tremendously,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, explained in a recent email.
“Given the importance of social connections during adolescence, many teens have felt extremely isolated, lonely, and depressed as a result of the constraining nature of the pandemic,” Dr. Manly asserted.
“Many teens have turned to social media use for connection, yet social media has its own host of stressors and often increases anxiety and can foster low self-esteem.”
Dr. Manly said parents and caregivers who have adolescents struggling with anxiety or depression are often confused and don’t know what course to take.
Many parents fear that talking about the issue will “only make matters worse.”
“Yet, in truth, teens – even the most independent ones – need their parents’ steady presence and gentle guidance,” Dr. Manly recounted.
Cathy Mills, Director of Strategy for Net Influencer, insisted that it’s crucial to balance work life and mental health.
“I consider it very important that especially employers and family members support young people in the process of depression and anxiety,” Mills advised.
“Something that has worked with my family members is to propose a me-treatment to young people. People today are very focused on meeting the needs of others and forget that being well with oneself is the most important thing to be successful in all areas of life,” she continued.
“In these me-treatments, it is important to write in journals, do meditations, practice sports, dance, and even travel alone. These actions will make young people feel more confident and have better mental health, which will allow them to face any situation or challenge at work and in daily life.”
Dr. Jeannette R. Craigfeld, who practices clinical psychology at the Therapy Group of D.C. in Northwest Washington, said friends and family must listen and understand the views of a loved one.
“Let them know that you’re willing to listen whenever they want to talk and that you can also just sit with them if that’s what they need,” Dr. Craigfeld demanded.
“Give your loved one permission to be wherever they’re at with their depression and anxiety and that they don’t need to force themselves to seem okay around you.”
Dr. Craigfeld continued:
“Remember that there are no easy fixes for mental illness. This is difficult to do with someone you love, as it’s hard to hear that they’re in pain. Still, it’s important to remember that listening and understanding them will give your loved ones much more relief from their depression and anxiety than anything else you could do.
“It’s also important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well since it’s hard to care for others if you’re not at your best first. Permit yourself to take time for yourself whenever you need to and do things that are soothing for you.”