Experts Declare Youth Mental Health a National EmergencyPat Fontana
The uncertainties, isolation, and anxiety that have increased in adults during the COVID-19 pandemic have also affected young people in significant ways. So much so, in fact, that experts have declared youth mental health a national emergency during the public health crisis.
Losing a Parent
With over 750,000 COVID-related deaths in the US, many people have lost loved ones. For a young person, losing a parent is devastating. Research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows that over 140,000 children in the US have lost at least one caregiver, including parents and grandparents, since the beginning of the pandemic.
A separate report details the fact that 120,630 young people under the age of 18 lost a primary caregiver, such as a parent or grandparent. These caregivers provided housing, basic needs, care, and emotional support for the youth affected. In addition, over 22,000 children have experienced the death of a secondary caregiver, including grandparents who did not necessarily support the children but who may have provided housing for them.
These numbers show that being orphaned is a hidden but ongoing secondary tragedy that has been caused by the pandemic. Identifying and caring for the needs of these youth who have lost caregivers during their developing years is an urgent aspect of the pandemic response and will continue to be so into the post-pandemic era.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
When a young person loses a mother, father, or grandparent who provided them with a home and loving care, they are permanently changed. The loss of such a caregiver is among the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that are linked to youth mental health issues. ACEs can lead to problems for young people such as lower self-esteem, issues at school, and an increased risk of substance abuse, violence, and suicide.
A Worsening Crisis
The AAP stated that “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.”
Even before the pandemic began, the rate of youth mental health concerns and suicide risk had been rising steadily among individuals under the age of 18. In 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24.
Between March 2020 and October 2020, emergency room visits for youth with mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children between the ages of 5 and 11, and 31% for those between the ages of 12 and 17. The number of girls between the ages of 12 and 17 taken to the emergency room for potential suicide attempts rose more than 50% in the early part of 2021.
Challenges Coping Emotionally
Many young people in the US also lost their social support during the height of the pandemic, as schools turned to remote options and outside activities were severely curtailed or completely canceled. Children who lost caregivers had few people to turn to as they experienced the stress, fear, and grief created by the pandemic. They are continuing to find it very difficult to cope emotionally, which is one of the main reasons the experts have declared youth mental health a national emergency.
Pandemic-related trauma can have lasting effects on the developing minds of young children as well as teenagers. Not only have they lost caregivers in large numbers, but many families have also lost financial stability and are still dealing with the isolation and fear associated with the pandemic.
Reactions to the Stress
Watching for signs that a young person is struggling can mean the difference in their mental health. If a child is feeling anxious, depressed, or angry, these emotions could be reactions to the stress they are experiencing, particularly if they are constant or overwhelming. It’s critical to look for changes in the child’s ability to do what they are usually able to do, including going to school or just enjoying a fun activity.
Teenagers are less likely to express their feelings but may show other signs of mental health issues stemming from the trauma they’ve experienced, including sleep difficulties, changes in appetite, and problems with concentration or memory. They may also show a change in their appearance and neglect basic personal hygiene. Youth experiencing mental health issues are also at an increased risk of risky behaviors and may have thoughts about or talk about suicide and death.
R&A Therapeutic Partners Is Here to Help
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we understand that the stress of the pandemic environment can cause significant challenges for youth, particularly if they have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19. We provide family counseling and parenting support, as well as effective youth mental health and substance abuse evaluations and treatment. Our approach includes psychotherapy and therapeutic consulting services to support you and your teen.
To keep everyone safe and healthy, we offer in-office and online therapy options during COVID-19. We encourage you to contact the Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to find out the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.