Parents concerned about growing post-pandemic youth mental health crisis – The Hill

Story at a glance

  • The pandemic has exacerbated many mental health problems among children and adolescents.

  • School social workers observe students who are struggling with social interactions and processing emotions.

  • Parents express concerns about their children’s mental health in a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The growing mental health crisis in young people is causing concern among parents as children and teens continue to struggle after going back to school in person.

Young people’s mental health deteriorated sharply in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when schools were closed and most students were learning remotely. School administrators and caregivers were optimistic that the crisis may ease this year after most students returned to classrooms during the 2021-2022 academic year.

says Terylene Rivers Cannon, who has worked as a school social worker for more than 20 years and is president of the Georgia School Social Workers Association.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Midway through the 2022-2023 school year, social workers at the school are finding that young people still face a heightened level of mental health challenges, and a new survey shows that many parents are concerned about anxiety and depression in their children.

“Now we’re getting a real picture of what’s really going on or what really happened,” says Rivers-Cannon.

She says many of the mental health challenges young people are currently facing are the result of historical trauma since they were close to others in their families during lockdowns early in the pandemic. Now that the constraints have loosened, she explains, young people seem to be releasing their feelings arising from those traumatic situations, which they may have previously held inside, in a different way.

“We have a lot of students who also had difficulty managing their emotions while they were acting,” says Lisa Ciappi of Effective School Solutions.

She noted that some students also suffer from forgetting how to interact with their peers and socialize face-to-face.

“For a lot of the students, the challenges seem to have intensified,” Ciappi says. “We see a lot more students who need more support.”

Research shows that the crisis has been coming for a long time – but it has become very fraught

The youth mental health crisis now affecting the country “may actually have been 15 years in the making,” says Duncan Young, CEO of Effective School Solutions.

Research and statistics measuring young people’s mental health by a variety of scales remained relatively stable until around 2009, Young says. Thereafter, it was an inflection point that marked the beginning of a steady decline in the mental health of young people. In recent years, this decline has also been accompanied by a steady rise in suicide rates and Emergency department visits among young people for psychological reasons.

Young points out that the shrinkage in young people’s mental health is caused by the advent of technology and social media. Use of smart phones and social media It is associated with increased stress, self-harm, and suicidal ideation among youth.

And the decline, already under way, has become supercharged during the pandemic.

“We have to seriously grapple with the fact that many young people feel isolated and socially marginalized,” Joshua Langberg, director of the Center for Social Emotional Wellness for Youth at Rutgers University, says in an email. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been associated with significantly increased psychological stress and social isolation of families, two of the biggest drivers of mental health.”

The isolating effect of distance learning and other stressors, such as food insecurity exacerbated by children not having access to school meals, may have put a strain on young people’s mental health amid the pandemic.

Some children may also have had heightened negative childhood experiences (ACEs), such as violence, abuse, or neglect.

ACE has been linked to mental illness, among other negative health effects, in adolescence and adulthood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And research suggests its effect may be widespread: found a recent study More than two-thirds of the 20,000 Florida teens surveyed said they had at least one adverse childhood experience, and 23 percent said they had four or more.

Many parents worry

Amid the ongoing crisis, more than three-quarters of parents are at least somewhat concerned about their children’s mental health, according to a report published on Tuesday. From the Pew Research Center.

The survey included 3,757 American parents with children under the age of 18. Mental health topped the list of parents’ concerns, before bullying, kidnapping or kidnapping. Forty percent of respondents said they were very or very concerned about their children suffering from anxiety or depression, while 36 percent said they were somewhat concerned.

This concern was more prevalent among white parents and Hispanic parents, lead author on the report and research partner Rachel Minkin at the Pew Research Center noted in an email.

“White and Hispanic parents are more likely than Black and Asian parents to worry that their children may suffer from anxiety or depression, and Hispanic parents are more likely to say they are very worried or worried about their child being shot or having trouble with their children,” she said.

Families, schools, peers and doctors can provide some support

Supporting children’s mental health starts at home with carers and parents. Families can talk honestly about the stress they’ve been through in the past few years and honor everyone’s hard work to get through it, Langberg suggests.

An increase in stress is likely to strain some important relationships. “People were alive and well,” Langberg says. “Maybe some negative communication patterns evolved. Start doing small things to change those patterns.”

One said one parent in the Pew survey“I haven’t had a safe place to express my feelings of feeling understood. I try to have weekly conversations with my kids to check on their feelings to see how they are doing. Even if they’ve had a good week, I’ve found it’s still good to remind them that you’re there for them.”

Parents and school counselors should allow awareness to be a welcome thought and continually instill in young people that it’s OK not to be OK, says Rivers-Cannon. “When conversations about it come up, it can’t be something you let quiet down.”

Schools are also an important space for young people to receive mental health support and services. But, Lack of funding and staff It makes it difficult for schools to serve their student communities in this way.

Since school staff are often unable to provide the support required, students may at least be able to turn to their peers.

“The positive side is that what I’m hearing and noticing is that the kids are connecting more with their classmates,” Rivers-Cannon says. “We have more groups of peers who are related to each other, which is great because it means they build trust between each other.”

Another space of support is the doctor’s office.

In October 2022, US Preventive Services Task Force Recommended that children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 18 undergo screening for anxiety. the Agency also recommends Depression screening from 12 to 18 years old. Early screenings can help children and teens get the care they need.

Jason Nagata, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California San Francisco, notes that an increasing number of pediatricians are examining young adults for ACEs.

“It is important that screening leads to improved health outcomes for children and adolescents who have had ACE,” he says. He also noted, “Pediatricians should be aware that girls and boys of color face the highest rates of ACE.”

In addition to examinations, clinicians can share guidelines with caregivers and help direct them to additional sources of support such as local mental health clinics or youth programs.

Ultimately, there is a need for resources that can be shared with families, the community, and stakeholders, because “if we don’t reach out and connect together, we can’t serve the individuals who will be our future,” says Rivers-Cannon.

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