Mental Health: Have You Asked Your Children How They Are Doing Today?
I often struggle with the news broadcast or should I just say "always"? It's not a happy place, per say. I mean, most of it is pretty darn depressing. And, "What can I do about it?," are my thoughts sometimes.
Take for instance the overwhelming mental health crisis, which has been on the rise since the pandemic. It's not getting better. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed 18-24 year olds and found that 63% reported experiencing anxiety and depression, while another report conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness reported "50% of all lifetime mental illnesses develop by age 14." Sorrowfully still, at least 10% of those young adults will continue to experience symptoms long after the pandemic is over.
In addition, 80% of college students reported experiencing adverse effects on their mental well-being due to the pandemic (Healthy Minds Network). Sadly, "students of color and low-income students are significantly less likely to seek care when they're experiencing mental health problems due to cost and availability." They are also "the same students who are less likely to persist in higher education and graduate" (Dr. Sarah Lipson, Department of Health Law Policy and Management, Boston University School of Public Health).
How can campuses broaden their services to include an array of resources for the well-being of their students?
Suicide has been on the rise. Even before the pandemic, in 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death in the United States among youth ages 10 to 19. The higher rates of suicide correlate with the heightened pandemic community responses. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported a 4% increase in calls in December 2020, compared to December 2019.
For youth, "suicide is often extremely impulsive" says Dr. Julie Williamson, a professor at Emery University in Atlanta. Dr. Williamson recommends investing in a lock-box to keep medications, including nonprescription medications, "to help guard against accidental overdose." Lisa Furst, Chief Program Officer of Vibrant Emotional Health also recommends hiding or storing potentially harmful objects.
The number of children coming in to the emergency room for suicide attempts has also increased. The number doubled in the fall of 2020, compared to fall 2019. "The number of children and teens hospitalized after suicide attempts went up from 67 in 2019 to 108 in 2020" (Hillary Blake, pediatric psychologist, Riley Hospital for Children, Indianapolis). The children who are struggling the most are those whose in-person communities and school services have been restricted due to the pandemic.
It's important to notice any behavior changes, not only with "the children who have expressed feelings of anxiety or depression or communicated a desire to die" (Williamson and Furst). If a child experiences any emotional symptoms, changes in behavior, sleep or appetite, or become withdrawn "it may be time to find a mental health provider" (Williamson and Furst).
At the top of the mental health crisis is loneliness and isolation (Mental Health America). Seventy percent of people have reported loneliness and isolation having a significant impact on their mental well-being between April and September of 2020. We need to help people stay socially connected in safe ways. The pandemic has affected our well-being in a variety of ways. For youth especially, school is a vital ingredient to their social life and well-being. Social isolation is a risk factor for suicide.
When youth feel emotionally upset, such as depressed, stressed, or anxious, it can be difficult for them to see beyond their present circumstances. It's important to check in with your kids, listen and reassure them. Let them know that it's normal to be struggling and assure them that this difficult time will pass.
What parents can do to help their children and young adults:
Have a schedule which balances distance learning with fun time
Create breaks into the day's activities
Consider your child's learning style and what works best for them
Maintain a healthy eating plan, a good night's sleep, and physical activities
Think about your child's love language and fill their love tank
Adjust your schedule to accommodate for your child's learning or when they are feeling upset
Check in with your children. Ask how they are doing. Listen and offer empathy and reassurance.
As mentioned earlier, watch for any red flags, such as changes in mood or behavior (stress, depression, or thoughts of suicide). Seek professional help if needed.
Find new ways to connect with your children, explore new adventures, and engage in social interactions (in a safe way). Your child's social support is key to their health and happiness.
Keep self-care as a daily habit for both you and your children's well-being
What are you doing to stay connected with your child every day?
What schedule have you put in place to accommodate for your child's school time, fun time, and holistic well-being?
What is one new adventure you can do with your child this week?
God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1
Holistic well-being: spiritual, mental/emotional, physical, and social (relationships)