More young people have mental health problems
Each mass shooting in the past three months has sparked fear and anxiety among young people, a Miami-Dade psychiatric nurse says of the children he sees.
“The numbers are staggering,” said Eddy Molin, manager of a psychiatric nurse at Jackson Health System in Miami.
“In the last two months we have seen an increase in hospital admissions. Most children come with anxiety and disruptive and impulse control behaviors. Of course we can try to connect these to some of the events that happened in the country, like shootings,” he said.
In a world where everything is far from right, young people often react with anger and defiance. Empathy, not punishment, is the way to get them. Molin said parents should be pre-emptive when it comes to identifying things that are going on with their child.
“Adolescent brains are still developing. We can’t expect them to argue or deal with it the way an adult would. If you have a child who used to be in all the activities and has started isolating, we need to pay attention and try to figure out why,” Molin said.
Deteriorating personal hygiene, staying in bed longer, withdrawing from family and friends are signs of problems.
Teenage suicides on the rise
“The suicide rate among 15-19 year olds was almost 60% higher in 2020 than in 2007,” said Beth Jarosz, deputy director of KidsData. Worse, Jarosz said the suicide rate for 10- to 14-year-olds in 2020 nearly tripled from 2007.
Jarosz crunches numbers. She said teen suicides in California increased 33% from 2010 to 2020. New York’s course changed little. Rates in Texas rose nearly 80%. Florida prices rose more than 100%. Jarosz said white and Asian teens have the highest suicide rates in Florida; Black and Latino prices are about the same.
“Prices for black youth are rising fast. They have doubled in the last two decades. Most of that increase has only happened in the last decade,” Jarosz said.
Indigenous youth are at high risk. This also applies to transgender youth. Children who have been traumatized, made homeless, or bullied are more likely to commit suicide. Teens who know someone who has committed suicide or died of a drug overdose are often depressed and need help. Too often they don’t understand.
“There is an incredible unmet need for mental health services,” Jarosz said.
One in six young people aged 3 to 17 has a mental health problem such as ADHD, anxiety, behavioral problems or depression. Yet only half have undergone mental health treatment in the past year.
what can be done
“We can destigmatize and expand access to mental health care,” Jarosz said.
She said states should look to places like New York, where there hasn’t been an increase in youth suicide, and emulate what works. She said reducing childhood adversity would help.
“We know that discrimination and difficult living conditions increase the risk of mental health problems later in life, and we can make those changes and break the intergenerational cycle of violence,” she said.
People on the front lines – therapists, lawyers, teachers and parents – say it’s important to focus efforts on the most vulnerable youth and to break the silence on people with mental health problems.
People used to be locked up in mental asylums where they were hidden and forgotten. Mental illness was considered a shameful personal failure and should not be mentioned.
Peer counseling works
Estephania Plascencia suffered from anxiety and depression for most of her life. After she graduated from college, things really fell apart. She stopped texting her friends and didn’t leave her house for six months.
She got better with medication and therapy. In 2017, she volunteered with the Miami chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI). As the host of NAMI’s “Ending the Silence,” Plascencia shared her life story with middle and high school students. In 2019, she became the coordinator of NAMI Miami-Dade’s youth program. She is currently studying for her MPH with a concentration in Biostatistics at Florida International University’s Stamp College of Public Health.
“NAMI has played a really important and fundamental role in my recovery. First of all they helped me to realize that I was not alone. They became part of my support network/family,” she said.
She said NAMI gave her support and validation and allowed her to work with others in similar situations. As she shared her story with med students and high school students, Placencia received many questions. Answering them became the best part of her job. Since the pandemic, she said children are more curious.
“A lot of these questions are about, ‘How can I ask for help, especially when my parents don’t believe me?’ Questions about depression and anxiety, questions about how to help friends and what to do when those friends don’t want to get help… Just observing it for myself, I know our youth definitely need help,” Plascencia said .
End of the quiet in Tennessee
Teenage suicides in Tennessee have consistently exceeded the national average since 2012. On a positive note, the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network reported 1,220 suicide deaths in both 2019 and 2020. As the state’s population increased in 2020, the suicide rate at 17.7 is slightly lower than in 2019 (17.9 per 100,000 people).
“There’s a stigma to saying ‘I have a mental illness,’ and a lot of people don’t want to see anyone or talk about it because they might be embarrassed or people might make fun of them or you should withdraw.” up on your bootstraps and it’s not recognized as a problem,” said Jeff Fladen, NAMI Tennessee Executive Director.
Ending the Silence is a program for middle and high schools or a youth group. It’s about the warning signs of mental illness and what steps to take if you or a loved one are showing symptoms of mental illness. A facilitator like Placencia can come to your school or is available online here: https://ets.nami.org
Besides the stigma, Fladen said the other big issue related to mental illness is health insurance. “If they work for a big employer, there’s a thing called the EAP, Employee Assistance Program, and it’s free. But if you have insurance, it can be difficult to find a provider to treat you,” he said.
Cognitive behavioral therapy and medication are the two most common treatments for mental illness. Studies show that both methods can be effective and some people, like Plascencia, benefit from both. If you have insurance, Fladen said you should call to see what it covers before seeing a counselor or therapist. He found that a family doctor can prescribe antidepressants.
“There are also organizations with tiered fees. Churches, mental hospitals, and various agencies across the state offer tiered counseling, but there isn’t just one number to call. You’ll have to google where you live,” he said.
In Nashville, you can call 211 and the United Way will provide information on resources and local mental health services in the area.
“Even if they don’t have TennCare, there is still a mental health safety net for low-income people that covers certain mental health services,” Fladen said.
“With our Department of Mental Health, we are ahead of many states. Not that everything is perfect, but we have a lot of good things… most schools have what they call a psychiatric department and school social workers. So there’s more counseling in the schools than there used to be in Tennessee, so that’s a good thing.”
The Jason Foundation trains teachers in suicide prevention and has partners in the US and Puerto Rico. Clark Flatt founded the Jason Foundation in 2007 after his son committed suicide.
“One of the things we’re most proud of at the Foundation is that it all started here in the state of Tennessee in 2007,” said Brett Marciel, communications director for the Jason Foundation.
Twenty-one states have passed the Jason Flatt Act, which requires certified teachers to complete two hours of training each year. The foundation raises the money.
“We’re proud to say that we train approximately 60% of the state’s teachers,” said Brett Marciel, communications director for the Jason Foundation.
Teachers can supplement their continuing education needs with other programs. You do not have to use the Jason Foundation program or its materials.
“In the last five years, we’ve delivered more than a million suicide prevention and awareness training sessions for educators,” Marciel said.
“Despite all the great strides we’ve made in suicide prevention, post-COVID-19 suicide rates continue to rise, with increased levels of depression and anxiety in young children. I’m worried about where this is going,” he said.
The mental health cooperative has multiple locations in Tennessee. For more than 25 years, it has been helping adults with severe mental illness and children with severe emotional challenges free of charge. More information online here: https://www.mhc-tn.org.
The Department of Mental Health has a fast facts website here: https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/research/fast-facts.html
The department also has a “Be the One” suicide prevention campaign available here: https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/research/fast-facts.html
The crisis service for children and young people has a nationwide crisis hotline here:https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/need-help/children-and-youth.html
The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network has resources and crisis lines here: https://tspn.org/number-of-suicides-in-tennessee-held-steady-from-2019-to-2020/