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The New York Times, based on nationwide polling by the respected Pew Research Center, reported that 70 percent of teenagers surveyed cited mental health concerns as a top issue for them. It ranked ahead of bullying, drugs, gangs, alcohol, and teen pregnancy.
As the newspaper reported, dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression hits teens hard these days, for a lot of good reasons:
Some psychologists have tied a growth in mental health issues among teenagers to increased social media use, academic pressure and frightening events like terror attacks and school shootings. Teenagers who grew up in the post-9/11 era, and amid many school shootings, may have anxiety tied to an environment filled with dire warnings about safety, said Philip Kendall, director of the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Temple University in Philadelphia. His center often helps children distinguish between the possible and the probable, to help put anxiety about frightening but rare events in proper context. Another major stressor is constant surveillance by peers on social media, and the ‘fear of missing out’ it can generate, he added. Again, he said, guidance about how to understand social media — for example, a person taking 50 photos to get one perfect image — can help to dispel anxiety. Increased rates of mental health issues could also be tied to better screening practices, noted Lynn Bufka, an associate executive director at the American Psychological Association. But it is still cause for concern, she said. Teenagers are dealing with rapid changes to their bodies, hormones and lives in an era of nonstop information overload, and they need help developing coping strategies.
The experts said grownups can help teens with their problems by listening without judgment, offering counsel sparingly, and, if needed, guiding them to professionals for more assistance.
Teens aren’t alone in their need for mental health support — it has become a major issue for their older siblings on college campuses, the New York Times reported in a separate article that noted:
Students and institutions are grappling with issues like the surge in school shootings and trauma from suicides and sexual assault. But it’s not just the crises that have shaken this generation — it’s the grinding, everyday stresses, from social media pressures to relationship problems to increased academic expectations. More than 60 percent of college students said they had experienced ‘overwhelming anxiety’ in the past year, according to a 2018 report from the American College Health Association. Over 40 percent said they felt so depressed they had difficulty functioning. Money problems are exacerbating their worries… Mental health professionals say college students have experienced financial burdens on a different scale than many of their predecessors. They grew up during the Great Recession and have seen family members lose jobs and homes. They have great uncertainty about their career prospects and feel pressure to excel academically or risk losing job opportunities.
The newspaper, citing information from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, said that collegians have flocked to professional campus counseling services in record numbers. The students appear not to see getting mental health care as carrying any stigma, though they may face waits for appointments as colleges and universities try to boost the trained staff and other resources to help them.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, effective, and excellent medical care, especially mental health treatment. Americans have been too hung up in the stigmas of mental disorders to provide the money, people, and support for desperately needed mental health services. To its credit, the Obama Administration — with rare bipartisan support — sought to close the gap, putting mental health treatment on a more equal footing with care for physical diseases and conditions.
But the nation has a long way to go, especially in providing mental health care for the young. A recent study found that half or so of an estimated 7.7 million children in the United States with at least one mental health disorder did not receive needed treatment from a mental health professional in 2016, with shortfalls in such care most pronounced in the South. In Washington, D.C., the published study said just under a third of youngsters with mental health needs failed to receive treatment.
This is not good. If grownups want to make a mess of the world, we also need to help the generations do better with their tomorrows. We’ve put them under a lot of problematic pressure — we need to help them with it. This is an issue we can’t ignore, especially as America grapples with an epidemic of suicide.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.