By: Shelly-Anne Johnson LCSW
Our kids are in trouble. While the rates of drug and alcohol use and teen pregnancy are down, the rate of mental health issues have grown exponentially among adolescents in the past few decades. Kids are reporting and are being diagnosed with mental health disorders at an alarming rate. Diagnoses like depression, anxiety and ADHD are now common place among teens. The suicide and self-harm rates continue to rise in all demographics. What is causing this uptick and alarming trend in our kids? There are a few hypotheses, but many are nuanced.
Possible reasons for the increase in mental health issues include the rise in awareness. Thanks to more public acceptance and acknowledgement of mental health concerns in kids and adults, people are becoming more sensitive to the existence of mental health signs and triggers in ourselves and others. Another reason could be the increase in social media participation and online influences that kids today are submerged in. What are the kids watching? Who are their influences? It is almost impossible for parents to shield their children from all the information readily available to them.
One factor could be the fact that kids have been reaching maturity younger over the last century. The age of puberty onset has dropped markedly for girls, to 12 years old today from 14 years old in 1990; the age of onset for boys has followed a similar path. With puberty having an earlier onset, the body is going through hormonal changes and the brain becomes hypersensitive to social and hierarchical information. Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University reports that the falling age of puberty has created a “widening gap” between incoming stimulation and what the young brain can process: “They’re being exposed to this deluge at a much earlier age.”
The isolation from Covid also triggered feelings of sadness and loneliness in kids who are at an age where social interaction is a crucial component of healthy development. On the playground is where they learn boundaries, social cues, and begin to explore who they are and mirror who they want to become. This is where they learn how to be a team player and make friends. This is where many learn emotional regulation and conflict resolution. Humans are naturally social creatures and without these interactions we are left with a sense of lack.
Most schools are planning to have kids return to the classroom for the next school year. This can be both a positive and negative thing. On one hand, the kids will be in the company of their peers, and one other hand, with school comes anxiety and stress. Our kids need the tools to succeed at school, and in all their environments. It is not too late for them to turn the tide. The brain is amazing, and with new coping skills, kids can build new, more adaptive neuropathways. This will make them more equipped to face the upcoming challenges of the new school year and beyond.
At Ridgeview, we have seen an increase in hospitalizations among kids struggling with depression, anxiety and self-harm. Many of these kids express feelings of sadness and loneliness. Some report having suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. We have to help our kids now. With this in mind Ridgeview has designed a specialized summer series for the kids in our outpatient programs to meet their unique needs. “Summer G.A.M.E.S” was designed to address the most common school triggers adolescents face today. Our treatment programs will enable students to learn how to balance their mental health and academics & prepare them for a positive school year ahead.
This cannot wait. Contact Ridgeview at 770-434-4567 for our Smyrna location or 678-635-3507 for our Monroe location to see how we can help your family through this trying time. Remember, it takes a village.
Read More About the Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Teens Here: