15 Jul Mental Health Trends for Children and Adolescents: The Next Pandemic
While the full societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant safety measures is not yet known, there is already clear evidence that the next wave of the pandemic is a mental health crisis for children and adolescents. In late 2021, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General issued a mental health state of emergency for children and youth.
The pandemic’s heavy toll on mental health for children and adolescents is evident in the data that is being published. According to data released by the CDC, in 2021 44% of high school students surveyed felt persistently sad and hopeless and 55% reported some form of emotional abuse at home. Another CDC study identified a 50% increase in the number of adolescent female emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts during February to March of 2021. It is easy to surmise the social isolation, fear and anxiety, and loss of life has a major role in these trends, but these concerns in youth mental health may be influenced by other factors.
Mental health professionals will tell you that protective factors are weighted heavily in assessing risk for individuals in terms of how well they will manage mental health crises and divert from substance use or self-harming behaviors. The CDC defines protective factors as “individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events. These factors also increase an individual’s ability to avoid risks or hazards, and promote social and emotional competence to thrive in all aspects of life, now and in the future.” It can be the loss of those protective factors that will adversely affect success rates in responding to mental health crises or trauma.
For young people, routine can be one of the most important protective factors. Having consistency in environment and clear expectations of their behavior and performance will support them, offering safety through predictability. The pandemic resulted in loss of routine, both at home, school and in social settings. The changes in routine can be seen in both basic routines, such as sleep habits, diet and exercise. Later bedtimes, relaxed restrictions on sugar intake, and staying in pajamas all may be allowances made during the pandemic by parents. Other routines such as school and social schedules also were altered and may still be absent or changed in current routines.
The loss of these healthy routines has increased the exposure of youth to negative influences through less productive screen time and social media usage. With the loss of healthier outlets such as sports, extracurricular activities and family/social engagement, youth spent more time connecting with peers through social media. These relaxed allowances of use of screen time and social media may not have resumed the pre-pandemic rate as new routines have taken hold.
Responding to the aftermath of COVID can seem overwhelming, with the effects stretching into almost all facets of our lives. The best means to tackle crises that seem insurmountable is one small, mindful step at a time. Mental wellness is the foundation upon which we build healthy families, interpersonal relationships, businesses, and communities therefore, must be prioritized. Recommendations to help support young people in response to these concerns include:
- Take some time to evaluate changes to routines that began during the pandemic, what changes can you make to ensure healthy routines.
- Model healthy routines. Examine your own social media use, sleep and dietary habits. Verbalize your intent to have a healthier routine to promote conversation.
- Talk it through. Building emotional resiliency is related to emotional awareness. Through education, young people at home with a parent or in school with a counselor/teacher can begin to develop the skill of examining the relationship between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors
OST is a digital (Cognitive Behavioral) program that is designed to support the mental health of children ages 7-11. .