Childhood and adolescence is a hard time for most. The mind and the body are both developing rapidly, and this often comes with stress and other unique challenges. Some growing pains – both physical and emotional – can be expected and are even essential to a child’s development.
In recent years, there has been a marked increase in children and adolescent mental health issues, so much so that the rise of mental health issues in youth is a concern to most healthcare providers, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic is not completely to blame for the increase in poor mental health in young adults. In fact, the mental health crisis in children and teens has been going on for much longer than you would expect.
Rising Mental Health Disorders Among Young People
The prevalence of mental health disorders in American youth, ages 3 to 17 years old, has been increasing for over a decade. COVID-19 made the child and teen mental health crisis worse, but mental health conditions have been on the rise among young people since 2012.
The mental health crisis has been exacerbated by several factors that impact well-being. Almost 20% of young people face some kind of mental health challenge, and there’s been a 40% increase in suicidal behavior among high school students. Young people today face a very different world than the one their parents grew up in, and some of those differences come with very real adverse effects.
What’s Causing Youth Mental Health Issues
Mental health is complicated, delicate, and extremely personal. However, there have been several societal issues and events over the past decade that have been impacting the mental well-being of our young people as a whole, increasing their likelihood of developing mental health disorders.
While not the sole cause of the mental stress children and young people are feeling, the isolation and uncertainty of COVID-19 did increase issues in teens’ and children’s mental health.
The pandemic exposed what was already a growing problem for young Americans, so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared the rise in mental health disorders a national crisis in 2021.
While children and young adults were already experiencing more mental health issues, caregivers, teachers, and public health officials began to notice a marked increase in behavioral issues and anxiety disorders during and after quarantine.
Societal Changes and Global Issues
There have been other major changes and events within the last few years that have contributed to worsening mental health conditions among young people. Interestingly, climate change has even increased this age group’s risk of developing anxiety disorders and depression.
Financial difficulty is also another significant risk factor when it comes to child and teen mental health disorders. Since the 2008 recession, there has been a historic spread of poverty throughout the country. The economic difficulties that came along with COVID-19 have only made many families’ financial situations worse. That economic uncertainty has a major impact on the mental well-being of children and teens.
Another risk factor for developing mental health issues is exposure to prejudice and violence. Adolescents who identify as LGBTQ and feel rejected due to their sexuality or gender identity are far more likely to develop mental health disorders.
Similarly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children who are discriminated against due to their race or ethnicity have a higher chance of developing physical health and mental health conditions.
While social division and prejudice has often been an issue throughout the history of America, discrimination and hate crimes have been on the rise. Due to advances in technology, children and teens are being exposed to this kind of harmful content more regularly.
The regular use of social media is one of the biggest causes of mental health disorders in young people today. The United States Surgeon General has even warned that social media use can lead to eating disorders and low self-esteem among other mental health challenges and potential exposure to harmful content.
Signs Your Child Is Experiencing Mental Health Problems
Given the rise in mental health issues among children and young adults, it’s important for caregivers to monitor the mental health of the young people in their lives. If you are worried your child may be suffering from mental health issues, here are some signs they may need an intervention and mental health care:
- Mood swings with intense anger or high and low moods
- Difficulty making friends or a tendency to isolate themselves
- Avoiding eating, major weight changes
- Changes in sleep patterns, such as oversleeping or not sleeping enough
- Excessive worry or fear
- Difficulty learning, slipping grades, avoidance of school
- Risk-taking behaviors, such as substance use
- Self-harm, expressions of suicidal ideation
If you see evidence of self-harm or your child expresses suicidal thoughts, it is important to take it seriously and get them the help that they need. *Calling the suicide prevention hotline at 9-8-8 can put you in touch with crisis counselors who can help you navigate the situation.
If your loved one is actively in danger or harming themselves, it is important to get them to an emergency room to receive care right away.
The Importance of Mental Health Services
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental illness has now become one of the leading causes of death and disability. But with caring, effective, evidence-based health care, mental health challenges can be overcome. Seeing a licensed mental health provider when dealing with mental health issues is as important as seeing a primary care physician when your physical health is suffering.
If you notice any symptoms of mental health issues in your child, schedule a mental health evaluation for them. Upon evaluation, the healthcare provider can develop a plan to address your child’s mental health challenges and teach them healthy coping skills.
Expert Mental Health Care for Children and Young Adults
When it comes to your child’s health needs, you want to make sure they receive the best care possible – both for their physical health and their mental health. When your child is struggling with mental health issues, it’s important that their healthcare provider be a kind, caring, empathetic expert.
Meridian HealthCare has made it our mission to provide quality mental and physical health care to the residents of Mahoning Valley and beyond, and we’re committed to combating the rise of mental health issues in youth. We offer expert, evidence-based mental health services for adolescents and adults alike. If your child is struggling, your family isn’t alone – we’re here to help. Reach out to schedule an appointment today.