If you have read enough of my blogs, you probably know that I like to listen to The Daily. This week was no exception. Michael Barbaro interviewed New York Times correspondent, Matt Richtel, about his reporting on the national mental health crisis among adolescents. Although the information he presented is dismaying, I think it is important that we take notice. Of the many statistics presented, two that jumped out at me are that there has been a 60 percent increase since 2007 of adolescents who said they suffered a major depressive episode. Similarly, as compared to 2007, suicides among adolescents have risen by 60 percent.
Mr. Richtel interviewed pediatricians to get their perspective. One noted that in the 1990s, she was dealing with broken bones, ear infections, and other physical injuries, whereas now, more often than not, she is dealing with ADHD, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. She noted that she and other pediatricians are ill-equipped and ill-trained about mental health conditions because, historically, these were treated by psychiatrists and therapists. Now, however, it’s difficult to find mental health professionals, with appointments being scheduled four to six months in the future if one is so fortunate to find a professional that is taking on new patients. In 2019, the American Association of Pediatrics stated that “mental health disorders have surpassed physical conditions” as the main source of threats to adolescents.
As a parent of three adolescents, I find these statistics extremely troubling, and I want to understand why so many young people are afflicted with these illnesses as compared to 15 years ago. Although no one knows for sure, Mr. Richtel did provide some ideas that he gleaned from his investigation. He noted two potential inter-related causes. First, the age when young people are going through puberty now averages 12 whereas it used to be age 14. Second, he noted that, at the same time, brain development has not accelerated at the same pace, so these children struggle to regulate their emotions and cope with the changes that are happening to them. This struggle is exacerbated by the technological revolution which has increased the pace of everything.
Anyone who knows teenagers understands that these kids spend a lot of time on social media and the internet. For them, it seems to be an attempt to escape from the stresses and pressures in their lives. But the amount of information, good, bad and scary, that bombards these kids, overstimulates their brains, and creates more anxiety as opposed to relief. I know that the topics that my kids discuss have a level of seriousness well beyond what I thought about as a teenager.
It’s clear that there are not enough resources to deal with all of the people suffering from mental health issues. I was talking to a friend today who served in Iraq and has researched PTSD. He noted that the impact of the traumas to which adolescents are exposed are not that different from the PTSD which affects soldiers returning home. And he believes that the same treatments that are effective for treating PTSD can be effective for helping our youth. While this problem is daunting, there are some promising treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy that helps teens to better regulate their emotions and cope with what they are feeling.
For those with a friend or relative who is suffering, supporting them and being aware that there are treatments is a step in the right direction. But, as a society, there’s more work to do to help those who are struggling.
Take care and stay safe.
The Last White Man: A Novel by Mohsin HamidOne morning, a man wakes up to find himself transformed. Overnight, Anders’s skin has turned dark, and the reflection in the mirror seems a stranger to him. At first he shares his secret only with Oona, an old friend turned new lover. Soon, reports of similar events begin to surface. Across the land, people are awakening in new incarnations, uncertain how their neighbors, friends, and family will greet them. Some see the transformations as the long-dreaded overturning of the established order that must be resisted to a bitter end. In many, like Anders’s father and Oona’s mother, a sense of profound loss and unease wars with profound love. As the bond between Anders and Oona deepens, change takes on a different shading: a chance at a kind of rebirth--an opportunity to see ourselves, face to face, anew. In Mohsin Hamid’s “lyrical and urgent” prose (O Magazine), The Last White Man powerfully uplifts our capacity for empathy and the transcendence over bigotry, fear, and anger it can achieve.