This week a coalition of leading experts in pediatric health issued a dire warning about the current mental health crisis impacting our children. They went so far as to call it a national emergency.
"This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020," the declaration from the pediatric groups says.
According to the NPR article written by Deepa Shivaram dated 10/20/21, "suicide has become the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds. Between February to March of this year, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% for girls ages 12 to 17, according to data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention".
There is no doubt that the stressors that children are experiencing can be linked to a disconnection to a strong social system including normalized school. Children go to school for 6-7 hours a day in masks, six feet apart and unable to truly engage in normal social connection. With faces of friends and teachers covered, they can begin to feel greater and greater isolation from those that have typically offered emotional connection and stability. Not to mention the fear associated with the current climate. Many children have been marinating in fear of a deadly disease touching them or their families.
There is clear evidence that after the dust settles, we will be working to manage this crippling mental health crisis for this young generation for years to come.
How can we begin to help now:
Ensure your children have ample time to engage in face to face activities with friends. Allow them to connect to peers in as normalized ways as possible.
Avoid having the nightly news playing in your home during your children's waking hours. This programming is seeped in creating fear in our nervous systems and children are even more susceptible to this than adults.
Help them create lists of things they would like to do and begin to create opportunities for them to accomplish those items. Having exciting plans that they create supports their engagement in their lives.
Allow them to dream the future. So many worries have to do with seeing a world filled with disease and fear. Allow them to use their imagination to create futures for themselves they feel inspired by. Create photo albums and stories of what their future will look like.
Create a safe space for your children to talk about and vent their feelings. Avoid attempting to fix their feelings but rather be a safe place for them to unpack what they are experiencing. Too often parents will try to "solve" the problem and often kids are looking to just be heard.
Our children are journeying through unprecedented times. Many are feeling isolated and hopeless about their futures. Adults in their lives have an opportunity to recognize the roots of these challenges and begin to proactively create a space of hope and normalcy to the greatest degree possible. The money being spent on the back end to address this mental health pandemic will never be as powerful as addressing the challenges proactively.