Mental health is a critical component of well-being for people of all ages. Mental health disorders can occur for a variety of reasons, but it’s becoming obvious that overall mental wellness is declining among young people.
While the Covid pandemic certainly played a role in youth mental health problems, the trends have been increasing for far longer. Today, more kids than ever are experiencing depression, feelings of hopelessness, and even suicidal thoughts.
The kids are not all right
Kids have a lot to worry about these days. Increasing pressure to excel in school, increased social media and internet use, less unstructured time to decompress, stress within their families and environment, political unrest, climate change – it’s a lot for kids to cope with. Although anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems have always affected some kids and teens, these issues are becoming a larger trend among youth.
There are many possible explanations and factors that could be contributing to these issues. Depending on the individual, factors such as homelessness, food insecurity, and poverty can be a major contributing factor. The Covid pandemic certainly had an effect on the mental health of the majority of kids and teens. Internet use might also play a role, from young people internalizing unrealistic expectations to cyberbullying.
The impact of mental health problems on young people is sobering. Not only do these problems affect the well-being of kids and teens, but they can even lead to self-harm and suicide. Many young people become withdrawn, struggling socially and academically, which can lead to long-term issues.
Types of mental health issues
There are many different recognised mental health disorders that kids and teens can develop. Anxiety and mood disorders are typically the most common mental health issues among youth. These can lead to issues such as low self-esteem, self-isolation, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and more.
Eating disorders are also common among kids and teens. They can become incredibly dangerous and all-consuming, causing young people severe physical harm in some cases, either from binging and purging or extreme calorie restriction.
Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are often diagnosed in early adulthood, but they can affect children too. These mental health conditions often involve a variety of genetic and situational risk factors.
Signs and symptoms
Many kids won’t seek help for mental health problems they might be experiencing. This is often because they aren’t aware that they need help. In other cases, stigma and embarrassment cause them to hold back from seeking help.
For this reason, it’s important for influential adults in a child or teen’s life to be watchful for any signs and symptoms of mental health issues. There are a variety of red flags that can indicate a young person’s need for mental health support, including:
- Reduced energy
- Less interest in favorite activities
- Problems with sleeping or eating
- Fixation on food/calories and/or exercise and weight loss
- Substance use
- Anger issues
- Isolation/withdrawal from friends and family
- Sudden changes in academic achievement or normal behaviour.
Sometimes, the signs that a kid or teen is struggling can be subtle. It’s important for adults who are involved in a child’s life (such as parents, coaches, teachers, and social workers) to keep an eye out for any changes that might indicate a larger mental health problem.
Risk factors for mental illness
Some children are at greater risk of developing mental health disorders than others, simply due to their genetics and circumstances. Many mental health problems have a genetic component, especially when the environment is likely to trigger them.
Children who have experienced trauma or lack safety in their environment are also more likely to have problems with a range of mental health problems. It’s critical to ensure that these children have the support and professional treatment they need to maintain good mental health as they grow and develop.
Access to mental health services
For many children, the biggest obstacle to mental well-being is a lack of access to mental health services, including counseling and medication. This is especially true for those who are most at risk of developing problems like anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.
Although telehealth and online resources are making mental healthcare more widely available, we will need to ensure that low-income youth have the ability to work with these professionals for as long as they need support. For those who are uninsured or do not have reliable internet access, even telehealth may be out of reach.
Prevention and early intervention can go a long way toward ensuring that all children have the opportunity to work through any mental health issues they are experiencing or are likely to experience. For children with multiple risk factors, this kind of support and intervention can be a game-changer, by helping them develop coping skills and build resilience before things have a chance to get worse.
Promoting advocacy and awareness
More research is needed to understand why this crisis is occurring. However, the stakes are too high to take a “wait and see” approach. Kids are in danger and it’s crucial that they have access to mental healthcare for as long as they need it.
Advocacy and awareness are important in our path toward a healthier generation. Adults need to know what to look for, and how to get help if a child is in need. Kids need to know that they’re not alone and that it’s okay to ask for help.
Understanding the magnitude of the crisis is the first step. The next step, however, is finding solutions that ensure no child has to suffer enough to consider harming themselves or others. Proactive and preventative care will be key to helping kids lead happy, mentally healthy lives.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.