Many news outlets have reported a marked increase in suicidality amongst teenagers over the past two years. Unfortunately, adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide rates have actually been climbing since before the pandemic, with a 60 percent increase from 2007 to 2018 in suicidality in this age group (Mental and Behavioral Health NSCH Data Brief, 2022). The global pandemic exacerbated an already tough situation. When adolescents should be socializing and gaining independence, remote learning made them even more sedentary, more socially isolated, and more glued to screens. Add to that the stress COVID-19 placed on many families, loss of caregivers to the pandemic, cancellation or disruption of sports, proms, and graduation ceremonies, and increasing climate anxiety (Ibeziako,2022).
Adolescents as a group are not a monolith with identities that are complex and layered. For example, teens, who also identified as LGBTQ+, felt the effects of the pandemic intensely. 56% of LGBTQ+ and 62% of trans youth reported their mental health was poor during the pandemic (Project Thrive, 2022). The deaths of many BIPOC citizens at the hands of police drew attention to the existing inequalities in the US. These events, plus escalating environmental stressors and socioeconomic disparities due to the pandemic contributed to anxiety, depression, and trauma in BIPOC and other minority populations. Mental health services available to teens have been declining since 2010, with the most significant losses in residential and acute care services (Roy, 2022). Many youth who previously would have been supported in specialized mental health facilities now end up in the ER for long periods (Richtel, M, 2022).
So how do we address the needs of our youth? We as a community can start by making time to connect with the youth and young adults in our life. Normative activities such as socializing, having fun, playing games, and spending time together can help youth feel supported and connected. Letting friends and family know that TGTHR accepts volunteers is a great way to get others involved in our mission. If we see a young person struggling we can be sure to get them the support they need by referring them to a mental health counselor. Colorado now has the I Matter program available to youth, providing three free counseling sessions. Finally, we must advocate for more comprehensive mental health services for youth, by reaching out to your local state representative or to the newly formed Colorado Behavioral Health Administration.
COVID-19 has exacerbated adolescent mental health crises and suicidality (2022).Medical and Life Sciences news. Retrieved from: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20220517/COVID-19-has-exacerbated-adolescent-mental-health-crises-and-suicidality.aspx
Ibeziako, P., et al. (2022).Pediatric Mental Health Presentations and Boarding: First Year of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Hospital Pediatrics. doi.org/10.1542/hpeds.2022-006555.
Mental and Behavioral Health NSCH Data Brief (2020). HRSA Maternal and Child Health. Retrieved from https://mchb.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/mchb/data-research/nsch-data-brief-2019-mental-bh.pdf
Project Thrive (2022). Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/resources-for-youth-serving-professionals
Richtel,M. (2022). Hundreds of Suicidal Teens Sleep in Emergency Rooms. Every Night. New York Times.Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/08/health/emergency-rooms-teen-mental-health.html
Roy, A. (March 17,2022). Colorado has a shortage of resources for kids’ behavioral health treatment. Retrieved from: https://www.9news.com/article/news/local/next/colorado-shortage-resources-kids-behavioral-health/73-8c6d7fbf-a59d-4316-beb0-b6d899b681e6