America is facing a mental health crisis. Between the loss, worry, fear, isolation, and hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, families across the United States have felt an increase in anxiety, stress, and depressive disorders. This is particularly true for America’s youth, who have been forced to spend some of their most critical years of development learning and building friendships behind small screens.
As we return to a new normal, an alarming number of children, teenagers, and young adults are now being diagnosed with mental health disorders or facing detrimental thoughts of self-harm and suicide. So much, in fact, that the U.S. Surgeon General released a national advisory about the urgent need to address youth’s mental health. He wrote:
“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade… The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating.”
The Surgeon General’s advisory came after a group of leading pediatric health experts declared the youth mental health crisis a national emergency. And, now following, the White House has joined the playing field. In President Biden’s first State of Union, he announced a strategy to help address the mental health crisis facing young people in America.
Key Facts about the Mental Health Crisis
Both the White House and the Surgeon General recognize that the rate of mental health issues in youth have been climbing even prior to the pandemic. For years, mental health challenges were cited as the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 youth in the U.S. facing a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder. Suicide rates have also been climbing in the last decade, with suicide rates among youth ages 10 to 24 increasing 57% between 2007 and 2018. Early estimates show these numbers have escalated further during the pandemic.
Below are some brief facts around the current, national mental health crisis, as cited by the White House in their Fact Sheet released on March 1, 2022:
- More than half of parents are now concerned about the mental health of their children and teens. According to this same survey, about 1 in 4 parents have actively sought mental health treatment for their children, because of the pandemic.
- Emergency department visits for attempted suicide increased 51% among adolescent girls in 2021. For all adolescents, the proportion of mental health–related emergency department (ED) visits increased 31% compared between 2019 and 2020.
The December 2021 Surgeon General advisory echoes many of these sentiments, also citing:
- Depressive and anxiety symptoms have doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of youth now experiencing depressive symptoms and 20% experiencing anxiety symptoms.
- Early estimates suggest there were more than 6,600 deaths by suicide among young people aged 10 to 24 during the year 2020.
- Socioeconomically disadvantaged adolescents— such as those growing up in poverty—are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than peers with a higher socioeconomic status.
Biden’s Strategy to Address the National Mental Health Crisis
In light of these harrowing statistics, it’s clear that something must be done to support and protect our youth, as well as prevent further disruption to their health and wellbeing. In the White House’s unity agenda, was a proposed strategy to address the national mental health crisis among all, with a special focus placed on protective and preventive strategies for youth.
Below is a recap of the President’s strategy to tackle the growing mental health concerns:
- Strengthen system capacity and ensure treatment is available:
According to the White House statement, more than one-third of Americans today live in an area where there is a shortage of mental health professionals. Even outside these shortage areas, many people struggle to get the help they need.
With this in mind, President Biden is proposing that we expand the supply, diversity, and competency of mental health and substance abuse treatment providers, ensuring there are enough psychiatrists, psychologists, paraprofessionals, and clinicians to meet the growing need for these services. This will be implemented through new training approaches for professionals, investing in programs to expand training, building national certification programs, expanding the availability of funding for mental health services, investing in research on new practice models, and more. The White House also aims to launch a new crisis response line, “988,” which will create a national network of local crisis centers to answer mental health crisis calls.
- Connect more Americans to the care they deserve:
Of the millions of youth with a treatable mental health disorder, it’s estimated that at least half do not receive adequate treatment. Not only this, but the average delay between the time mental health symptoms arise, to the time a person gets treatment, is about 11 years. That is a long time to be suffering from mental illness, as well as the mistreatment and mislabeling that people struggling often face. President Biden’s goal is to make it easier for Americans to receive treatment by expanding insurance coverage of behavioral health services, expanding virtual mental health services, and developing online treatment locator tools to increase access. Biden also discusses integrating mental health and substance abuse treatment into primary care and community-based settings, as well as mental health support services in colleges and schools.
- Create healthy environments that support children’s mental health:
The Biden-Harris Administration also recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic is not the only contributor to the rise in mental health disorders among youth. They cite that digital technologies, and particularly social media, have also caused harm. For this reason, part of their strategy to combat the mental health crisis is to improve children’s privacy, ban targeting advertising for children, stop discriminatory algorithms online, expand social media research, and institute stronger online protections for young people.
In addition, the Administration also aims to expand prevention programs for children and teenagers, enhance programs that support mental health treatment for youth, and take action that will “improve mental health at every age.” This involves expanding intervention services in early childhood and school settings, increasing mental health resources for juvenile corrections facilities, and training social service professionals in basic mental health skills. Additionally, the White House statement declares that we must set students up for success. This means increasing mentorship, tutoring programs, career services, and learning programs to ensure students have goals and are able to pursue their goals after high school graduation.
How to Help Youth Struggling with Mental Health
While the White House’s strategy aims to tackle mental health issues at a national level, and have a more widespread impact on our access to treatment and support, there is still the question of what parents, caregivers, educators, and guardians should do now. What can you do if your child or teen is showing symptoms of a mental health disorder? How can you find help for your loved one, and ensure they are set up for recovery and success?
If you suspect your child or teen is struggling with their mental health, it is important to educate yourself on the symptoms or warning signs. Additionally, educate yourself about mental illness in youth. Call your family doctor, therapist, or even a youth treatment provider to talk about your concerns and your child’s situation. They can help you set up a health assessment, or refer you to a mental health treatment specialist. Getting professional help can be a critical step in ensuring your child’s recovery.
On top of finding treatment, you can also promote better mental health at home by having open, honest, and positive conversations about mental health and substance use. Remember that many adolescents do not know how to cope with their mental health struggles, like depression or trauma, and may turn to alcohol and drugs to escape. This is why many young people face both mental health disorders and substance use disorders simultaneously. Talk to your teen about the dangers of drug use. Talk to your teenager about the risks of not treating their mental health disorder. Discuss the benefits of therapy, and show your child that it’s okay to get help. By doing so, you can help to reduce the shame or stigma they may be facing at this time.
As a parent or guardian, it’s important to know that mental health conditions are treatable and manageable. With early intervention and a long-term treatment plan, you can set your son or daughter up for success. If you do not know where to turn for help, or would like more advice, please do not hesitate to reach out to Turnbridge at 877-581-1793. Turnbridge is a leading mental health and substance abuse treatment provider for youth. You may also learn more here.