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Surgeon General issues a warning: the mental health of kids is suffering

Our kids are struggling with their mental health. Some may say that this is due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic. But I believe that kids have been struggling for long before this.

Depression and anxiety are on the rise

Recently the Surgeon General of the United States called a warning of the emerging youth mental health crisis. This could not be more true. Our kids are struggling with mental health. I see it in the teens I work with and my own children at home. While adults have been coping with drinking, baking, developing stress ticks and trying to keep their boats afloat, many of the young people I meet have turned inward to themselves and into the internet.

The LA Times cites that depression and anxiety has doubled since the beginning of the pandemic. There has also been an increase in impulsivity and irritability, which is commonly associated with ADHD. Not surprising considering the increased amount of screens that have been needed for online school and communication with those outside their homes. And the increased amount of time kids, and teens, have spent in their isolated bubbles.

Over a year ago I spoke with my pediatrician and was told the AAP had recommended that kids return to in person school, especially the older students, because of their mental health needs. Keeping kids out of school for so long was so hard on their social and educational needs.

Just looking to belong

Kids have always sought to fit in. To belong. To be a part of a group and to be heard. It used to be that if the group wasn’t within their town or school it wasn’t to be joined. But with the advent of the internet and social media groups to join it became easier to find a group, even an obscure one, or one that might not be best for their physical or mental health.

When the pandemic began, it made these online groups and communities much more appealing. They were there. And it wasn’t about transitioning an in-person friendship to a screen; it was always a screen relationship which makes it somehow a better connection. Right at any kid with a phone’s fingertips.

Many of these groups can be welcoming but their ideals may be different than those that the child has been raised in. Being accepted by an online community can lead to increased friction with family at home. Leading to increased (in person) isolation.

Of the kids and teens that I know, many of the ones that are doing well right now are those that have families that attend church and eat dinner together. It’s so important to spend that time together face-to-face.

Here’s what I am trying to do about it

I’m trying to have more direct and intentional interaction with my kids. Encourage family meals as often as possible. Help your kids with their homework. Spend time outdoors as a family. Get to know their friends, encourage them to bring friends over so you can see how they interact and what they talk about. Go out as a family. Include your children in your faith. Be an embarrassment to your kids by how you all like hanging out together.

Get mental health assistance as quickly as you can. Many therapists have long waiting lists and appointments that are weeks away. It’s not ideal, but if you have the appointment it can be a sign of light. When the appointment comes, even if things seem better leading into it, still go. Therapy can be more helpful when not in crisis because you can be more apt to learn new mental health skills when you’re not in panic mode.

Love your children, be there for them. Do your best to understand what they are saying and not saying. And above all listen to them. Try to be the safe person they turn to when in need.

Jena Muhr

My name is Jena. I am a Catholic, wife, and mother of 3 young ones. I have never met a carb I didn't like. I am a fan of mental health and saving the world one run at a time.

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