August 11, 2022

The Disturbing Trends of Mental Health and Safety

Opinion
By Greg Holmes | July 30, 2022

Is your child depressed? Do they feel increasingly anxious and believe that their life is hopeless?

If so, they are hardly alone. A recent study from the Mental Health Million Project of Sapien Labs showed an alarming decline in mental health worldwide from 2019 to 2021. One of the most disturbing findings was that the largest decline occurred among young adults, ages 18-24, 44 percent of whom reported being “distressed or struggling.”

The Center for Disease Control has estimated that one-third of high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase since 2009. 1 in 3 teens reported making a suicide plan in the past year, with suicides becoming the second leading cause of death for 10- to 24-year-olds. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a “state of emergency” in the mental health of children and adolescents.

What are the reasons behind this frightening trend? One of the major factors given by experts is the psychological impact of the pandemic. As of this writing, approximately 140,000 children have experienced the devastating loss of a primary or secondary provider to COVID.

A second major stressor for children and their families during COVID has been the upheaval of the educational structure. Students have been forced into virtual school lessons, which can dramatically increase feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Psychologists have long believed that the development of a strong “social self” is important to a person’s overall sense of well being.

There’s no doubt that COVID has had a horrific impact on our young in so many ways. But wait! Sadly there’s more—much more. According to Education Week, there have been 119 school shootings since 2018. Any caring person has been shaken by the images of grieving students, teachers, and parents whose lives have been shattered by these traumatic events.

The Washington Post has reported that approximately 311,000 children have been directly exposed to school shootings. Many more students have experienced an unintended increase in fear as a result of active shooter training. This training differs radically from the “duck and cover” exercises of the 50s, when we were taught to hide under our desks in case Russia dropped an atomic bomb. Back then, the threat was distant and the possible effects unknown. Now, the threat of school shootings is immediate and shows no signs of stopping. There have been 22 school shootings this year alone. Many live in fear that it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Violence abounds in our country. There are so many mass shootings (over 350 so far this year) that the media is faced with decisions about which ones to prioritize on the nightly news. As is the case with school shootings, there appears to be no end in sight to the madness and no consensus on how to solve the problem.

Is there any wonder that teens are having a mental health emergency? Adolescence in normal times is often a tough and turbulent gig, with many important physiological and psychological challenges. Today, our children look at social media and what do they see? Adults acting like out of control children. Politicians calling each other names and blaming each other rather than working together. Passengers assaulting flight attendants. A customer killing a Subway worker because of the amount of mayonnaise on their sandwich. The insanity seems endless, with little counter-balance of good news stories about people reaching out to each other and treating people like they would wish to be treated.

How can we expect ourselves, much less our children, to feel safe, happy, and hopeful under these circumstances? We’ve opened Pandora’s Box, and the evil things that have escaped feel overwhelming.

Where do we turn to find hope, and how can we instill it in our young? It’s easy to blame our troubles on others; we see it all the time among the politicians we’ve elected to represent us. But blaming doesn’t solve problems—it only makes things worse by encouraging more blaming and creating divisiveness among us.

Increasing security in our schools may help protect students and staff, but extra cameras and guards don’t get at the root of the problem. What about the violent behavior inside of our schools and homes? Do we tolerate bullying? Is it okay to express our frustrations by yelling at school administrators?

I would suggest that instead of blaming others, we start by taking a good look at ourselves. What kind of role models do our children see?

Do we practice the Golden Rule, or do we let ourselves be ruled by self-serving behaviors? Are we a part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Greg Holmes lives and writes in Traverse City.

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