The Youth Mental Health Crisis
In Connecticut and nationally, we are experiencing a crisis in youth mental health. In December 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report stating that the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness increased by 40 percent. Symptoms of anxiety and depression have doubled among youth, with 25 percent reporting symptoms of depression and 20 percent reporting symptoms of anxiety. The Hartford Courant and Connecticut Mirror reported in December 2021 that children with psychiatric needs are overwhelming hospital emergency departments across the state.
But even before the pandemic, surveys showed that youth mental health was suffering. The report notes that from 2009 to 2019, the proportion of high school students reporting persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness increased by 40 percent. Suicidal ideation also increased, as did youth visits to emergency departments for depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms. Youth most at risk for mental health symptoms during the pandemic include those with previous mental health challenges, those who have experienced trauma, food and housing insecurity, and those who have endured more disruptions to normal routines, among other factors.
Family members and caregivers can play an important role in supporting the mental health of children and teens. Recommendations from the report include the following:
· Take care of your own mental and physical health. Be a positive role model by getting enough sleep and exercise, managing stress, eating healthy meals, maintaining routines, and staying connected with family and friends.
· Help young people develop strong, stable relationships with supportive adults and healthy social relationships with their peers. It’s important to spend time with youth on activities that are meaningful to them and encourage open communication.
· Do your best to provide youth with a supportive, safe, and stable environment. Maintain a regular and predictable schedule as much as possible and try to minimize children’s exposure to violence.
· Look for warning signs of psychological distress and get professional help when needed. Signs and symptoms that your child’s mental health is suffering may include mood changes, social withdrawal, persistent problems in school, at home and with peers, changes in sleep or appetite, substance use, self-destructive and risky behavior, and thoughts of self-harm or death.
(Source: “Protecting Youth Mental Health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, Dec 7, 2021. https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-youth-mental-health-advisory.pdf)