Depression Is On The Rise: But Wait, There Is Hope!
The COVID crisis has created serious mental health challenges analogous to anxiety, depression, and our emotional well-being. There has been a loss of daily routine or what we now refer to as the "new normal." In addition to the physical adjustments of wearing masks and social distancing, there is social isolation and loneliness. We are bombarded with news, rumors, and misinformation from various angles that can make us feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and unsettled about what to do with the information we receive.
For parents, there is the additional layer of concern for protecting our children and determining the best course of action to take in providing for their well-being. How will the long term affects of the pandemic affect our children's development, resilience, and their ability to cope? Will their resilience increase or will they experience some sense of trauma and be overly cautious in the future?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates "that 2% of elementary-school-age children and 8% of adolescents suffer from a major depression " (National Alliance on Mental Illness (PDF).) Mental illness "affects a person's thinking, feeling, behavior or mood." These conditions intensely influence a person's life every day and their a ability to relate to others. The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. (Mental Health Conditions)
NAMI Reports That:
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Anxiety may also present itself as fear or worry and make children feel upset or angry. Like depression, anxiety can affect our sleep, as well as our physical well-being. Depression, anxiety, stress, or fear can be provoked by the unknown and the uncertainty of the COVID season. "Some children are more likely to develop anxiety or depression when they experience trauma or stress or when their own parents experience anxiety or depression." (CDC)
For children, the first signs of a mental illness may present itself in the form of an ambiguous symptom, such as a persistent headache or acting out. According to the Journal JAMA Pediatrics, half of the children in the United States with a mental health condition go untreated. Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with mental health which prevents some families from seeking help.
In addition to the stigma associated with mental health, families also face the issue of insurance coverage and the current shortage of mental health providers, making it difficult to seek mental health services. Consequently, families face long wait times which can lead to worsening of the illness and the need for more treatment, according to Jennifer Mautone, psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Approximately five percent of youth have depression at some point, according to the American Academy of Child and adolescent Psychiatry. Adolescents that use social media every day are 13% more likely to report high levels of symptoms of depression. Kids today also experience a great deal of pressure and demands and may feel like there is no way out. It's important that parents check in with their kids and teens regularly and have serious, candid conversations. Let them know you are there for them and that you want to help them. (From Sadness to Suicide)
According to Dr. Charles Raison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, "timeline is key" and parents should take notice if their children are constantly feeling down, hopeless, or negative, or if they begin to withdraw from friends and activities, or if there are sudden changes in their sleep pattern. Younger children may get easily upset or act out. (How to spot depression and anxiety in children)
Signs of Depression May Also Include:
Frequent complaints of physical illnesses
Major changes in eating and sleeping patters
Depression and suicide have increased over the past decade. Youth visiting the ER for suicide attempts have doubled since 2007. (CDC) If you notice changes in your child's behavior, professionals recommend asking your child how they are feeling. Signs of suicidal thoughts to look for include, seeking a way to kill oneself, feeling hopeless, expressing unusual anger, feeling trapped, and dramatic mood changes.
According to Dr. Robert Hendren, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, "the majority of the kids that we miss who have depression and who may go on and be at risk of suicide are kids who were just never asked."
But wait, there is hope!
Recognize the warning signs, such as withdrawal, lack of interest and motivation, or drastic changes in eating and sleep patterns.
Talk to your child's pediatrician about your child's symptoms and seek their advice on ways to help your child.
Provide emotional support by spending time with your child, encouraging your child to open up, and listen and acknowledge their emotions.
Promote a healthy lifestyle and help them feel connected to family, friends, and social activities.
While there are steps we can take to cope with depression, seeking help is the most important thing we can do for our child's well-being, as well as our own. Talk to a therapist, keep a journal and write your emotions, stay active, stick to a schedule, and hang out with family and friends.
The road ahead is uncertain. Our safety net is asking for help, being in community, and investing in our well-being. Mental illness is no one's fault. No one is immune. But wait, there is hope! Recovery is possible.
"But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31