Lasting Impacts of the Pandemic: Teen Mental Health
Trigger Warning: discussion of suicide and mental health struggles
By: Cam Padalino
Growing up can be very stressful and with the new added stress from a deadly pandemic, a never-ending cycle of school shootings, racial injustice, and a worsening climate crisis, a lot of young people have been experiencing a rapid decline in overall mental health, especially LGBTQ+ and POC youth. Groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA), have all come to the conclusion that the world is currently facing a children’s mental health crisis. A declaration was made by these groups, bringing to the public’s attention that “the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020” (AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration 2021). When researchers compared the mental health conditions of adolescents ages 10-35, they found that by 2018 suicide became the second leading cause of death and still is to this day. Teens and young adults appear to be the most vulnerable to mental health complications and suicidal thoughts due to the increased suicide attempts among people ages 10-24 despite it decreasing in all other age groups from 2018-2020. The CDC did a deeper dive into which groups were most affected, finding that BIPOC and LGBT youth were disproportionately harmed mentally by the pandemic and hate crimes compared to their white, cisgender, and heterosexual counterparts. More than half of high school students in the US reported feeling unsafe or unsupported in their own homes. Kids should not fear going home or to school. Kids should not feel like they have no support. Kids should be able to enjoy life without struggling alone.The rapidly declining mental health of youths is getting worse. This problem needs our attention as a society now.
To address the issue of declining mental health among young people, society needs to recognize that children have always been struggling mentally and recent world events have only intensified existing hardships. However, due to the dramatic decline in adolescent mental health, nationwide organizations have started to do more research and reach out to those going through hard times. For example, The Trevor Project, currently the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ youth, is dedicated to making the world a safer and more inclusive place for everyone. They specialize in helping LGBTQ+ and BIPOCLGBTQ+ children around the globe, working with millions of people each year. They recognize that LGBT youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers and aim to end this epidemic for good. They have taken many steps to make the world safer and happier for queer young people such as helping get 20 US states and Washington DC to ban conversion therapy, implementing a “Model School District Policy for Suicide Prevention” in a myriad of US school districts, and activley opposing anti-LGBTQ+ bills that are trying to reduce and cease trans and nonbinary youth medical care, as well as their participation in school sports, and use of pronouns. In 2020, The Trevor Project paused their Pride efforts to focus on fighting racial injustices. They provided assistance to BIPOC youth and expanded their programs to help BIPOCLGBTQ+ kids. Their crisis services, peer support, research, education & public training, and advocacy have all paved the way for a brighter and more accepting future for all LGBTQ+ youth. This will allow for greater and more equal opportunities among all young people as well as the eradication of disproportionate mental health issues for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. Hopefully one day they will successfully complete their mission to end suicide among LGBTQ youth for good.
Nearly 5 million children in the U.S. are dealing with a serious mental illness. Almost everyone knows someone struggling with mental health. Despite how common this is, stigma has caused most people to not understand mental health and how to take care of it. When children are experiencing mental strain, they often close themselves off and leave loved ones worried and/or confused. Harvard researchers studied the national emergency regarding children’s mental health and made a thought-provoking conclusion. “If a child has a fever or a persistent cough, parents react — they pay attention and reach out for help. But if a child seems sad or irritable, or less interested in activities they used to enjoy, they tend to think of it as a phase, or teen angst, or something else that can be ignored” (Harvard Health 2022). Most parents don’t or can’t even acknowledge if their child is suffering because of stigma.
The Oxford Dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Stigma surrounding mental health in our society is damaging to everyone because parents assume their child isn’t dealing with it and the children who are dealing with it feel alone and unsupported. Nearly 90 percent of people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives (Mental Health Foundation 2021). The Harvard study found many ways that parents can help their kids to start healing poor mental health and maintain it. By simply connecting more with a secluded adolescent and letting them know they have a safe space to talk, parents can start to create a better bond with their children. It is also advised that adolescents and teens have downtime in their schedule, are being safe and healthy with their social media habits, and are keeping regular and healthy sleep and exercise patterns. Moreover, parents can also keep in touch with their child’s teachers, coaches, and other prominent adults in their life to create a community where information is communicated properly to all parties involved. These actions ensure the child has a safe, trusted, and informed variety of adults they can go to whenever they need. Arguably the most important part for parents establishing positive mental well-being for their children is to make sure that parents are taking care of themselves. When parents are able to maintain their own mental health, they are able to properly support and provide an example for their kids. Parents might not be able to fix everything on their own, but there are support systems already in place for this very reason. Seeking help from other concerned friends and family members can increase a child’s support circle and getting in touch with a therapist can be very beneficial for a lot of struggling people. No matter what, it is important to keep an open mind and listen.
If you believe you are struggling with your mental health, there are many ways to seek assistance. To find help, you can go to https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help or https://www.talkcampus.io/ and start the process. You can also consult a school counselor or social worker if available to you.
However, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and/or tendencies, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 immediately. Your health and safety is important and should always be prioritized. To get involved and help struggling young people, check out https://www.thetrevorproject.org/volunteer/ to volunteer for The Trevor Project, https://blackmentalhealth.com/volunteer-opportunties/ to volunteer with the Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA), or https://aimymh.org/volunteer/ to volunteer for the AIM Youth Mental Health organization today. You can also donate to all of these groups if you wish to show your support that way. Maintaining your mental health is important, regardless of who you are. By supporting these non-for-profits, you are helping not only this generation, but also those succeeding it.