Parents worry about rising teenage mental health crisis in the wake of the pandemic – AOL | NutSocia

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A growing mental health crisis among adolescents is raising concerns among parents as children and adolescents continue to struggle after returning to school.

The mental health of young people deteriorated sharply in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic as schools were closed and most students were studying remotely. School administrators and carers have been optimistic the crisis could ease this year after most students returned to classrooms for the 2021-2022 school year.

“It was hope that after agreeing to the first year and returning to in-person learning, some things would have slowed down,” says Terriyln Rivers-Cannon, who has been a school social worker for more than 20 years and is president of the School Social Workers Association of Georgia.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Midway through the 2022-2023 school year, school social workers are finding teens still have high levels of mental health issues, and a new survey shows many parents are concerned about anxiety and depression in their children.

“Now we’re getting a true picture of what actually happened or happened,” says Rivers-Cannon.

Many of the mental health challenges young people are currently facing are a result of historical trauma when they were in close proximity to others in their households during lockdown at the start of the pandemic, she says. Now that restrictions have been eased, she explains that young people are releasing the feelings that arise from these traumatic situations that they may have previously carried inside them in other ways.

“We have many students who also struggled to manage their emotions and express themselves,” says Lisa Ciappi of Effective School Solutions.

Some students also struggle with forgetting how to interact and socialize with their peers, she noted.

“The severity of the challenges seems to have increased for many students,” says Ciappi. “We’re seeing a lot more students with higher support needs.”

Studies show that the crisis was a long time coming – but it has accumulated

The adolescent mental health crisis now affecting the country “has probably been brewing for 15 years,” says Duncan Young, CEO of Effective School Solutions.

Research and statistics measuring young people’s mental health using a variety of different metrics remained relatively stable until around 2009, Young says. A turning point thereafter marked the beginning of a steady decline in adolescent mental health. In recent years, this decline has also been accompanied by a steady increase in suicide rates and in young people’s psychiatric emergency room visits.

The reason behind the decline in young people’s mental health, according to Young, is the rise of technology and social media. Smartphone and social media use is associated with increased psychological distress, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts among adolescents.

And the decline already underway has intensified during the pandemic.

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

The isolating effect of distance learning and other stressors, such as food insecurity, exacerbated by children no longer having access to school meals, may have weighed on young people’s mental health amid the pandemic.

Some children may also have suffered from increased adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as violence, abuse, or neglect.

ACEs have been linked to mental illness, among other adverse health effects in adolescence and adulthood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And research suggests its effects could be widespread: A recent study found that more than two-thirds of 20,000 Florida youth surveyed said they had at least one negative childhood experience, and about 23 percent said four or to have experienced more.

Many parents worry

Amid the ongoing crisis, more than three-quarters of parents have at least some concern about their children’s mental health, according to a Pew Research Center report released Tuesday.

The survey included 3,757 US parents with children under the age of 18. Mental health topped the list of parents’ concerns, ahead of bullying and kidnapping or kidnapping. 40 percent of those surveyed said they were very or very concerned about their children struggling with anxiety or depression, while another 36 percent said they were somewhat concerned.

That concern was most prevalent among white and Hispanic parents, the report’s lead author and Pew Research Center research associate Rachel Minkin noted in an email.

“White and Hispanic parents are more likely than Black and Asian parents to worry that their children may be struggling with anxiety or depression, and Black and Hispanic parents are most likely to say they are extremely or very concerned about their children being shot or killed The police are in trouble,” she said.

Families, schools, peers, and doctors can offer some support

Mental health promotion for children begins at home with caregivers and parents. Families can be honest about the stress they’ve faced over the past few years and appreciate the hard work everyone has put in to get through it, Langberg suggests.

“Increased stress has likely put some important relationships under strain. People just survived and made ends meet,” says Langberg. “Perhaps some negative communication patterns have developed. Start doing small things to change those patterns.”

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

Parents and school counselors should allow awareness as a welcoming thought and continually teach youth that it’s okay not to be okay, says Rivers-Cannon. “If it’s talked about, you can’t let it rest.”

Schools are also a crucial place for youth to access mental health support and services. However, financial and human resource constraints make it difficult for schools to serve their student communities in this way.

As school staff is often unable to provide the support needed, students can at least turn to peers.

“The plus is that I’m hearing and noticing that kids are connecting more with their classmates,” says Rivers-Cannon. “We have more peer groups networking, which is wonderful because it means they build trust with one another.”

Another place of support is the doctor’s office.

In October 2022, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended that children and adolescents ages 8 to 18 be screened for anxiety. The agency also recommends screening 12- to 18-year-olds for depression. Early health screening can help children and teens get the care they need.

Jason Nagata, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, notes that more and more pediatricians are screening young people for ACE.

“It is important that screening leads to improved health outcomes for children and adolescents who have experienced ACEs,” he says. He also notes that “pediatricians should be aware that girls and youth of color have the highest rates of ACEs.”

Beyond screening, physicians 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 connect and network, we won’t be able to serve the people who will be our future,” says Rivers-Cannon.

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