It will take all of us to solve youth mental health issues – InsideSources
Watching what happened to 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva at the Winter Olympics was heartbreaking. We’ve seen a sanity breakdown caused by adults pressuring a child who probably shouldn’t have been allowed to compete.
As a young figure skater, I was coached by the late great Ron Luddington, who took skaters to nine consecutive Olympics and 36 World Championships. So during the Olympics, I didn’t see a young athlete crack under the pressure in Beijing. After a tough performance, I saw someone whose coach greeted her with harsh criticism. I’m sure it wasn’t the first – or the 100th – time.
It made me think of my daughter (who is the same age as Valieva) and all the children struggling with anxieties, feelings of helplessness and the feeling of isolation caused by the pandemic.
the “School Mental Health in America Report Card” survey published in mid-February by the Hopeful Futures Campaign says all 50 states are struggling to help their schools deal with this crisis. Only Idaho and Washington, DC exceed the nationally recommended ratio of one school psychologist per 500 students. Colorado, California, Washington, Illinois and Nevada were also highlighted for adopting different measures.
Research published in January by the Journal of Adolescent Health shows supportive relationships with family and friends. Healthy behaviors such as being physically active and getting better sleep seemed to protect adolescents from the harmful effects of the pandemic. And I wrote on the rise in student suicides in February 2021. The problem has only gotten worse over the past year.
These are not random one-off surveys. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that one in three parents think their children’s mental health is worse today than before the pandemic, and a Harris poll released in February found that 87% of Americans are concerned about the state of young people’s mental health, with two in three parents saying they are “extremely” or “very” worried.
Here are four things we can do to focus on this problem:
—Invest more in school-based mental health support for children. Every school district and state officials need funding for student mental health education; teacher and staff training; access to school counselors and psychologists; Medicaid funding for eligible children; development of partnerships with community mental health professionals; and policies that promote a healthy school climate.
-Pay attention. Family and friends should watch for warning signs such as openly suicidal statements such as “I wish I were dead”; changes in eating or sleeping habits; frequent or pervasive sadness; withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities; and frequent complaints about physical symptoms that are often emotionally related, such as stomach aches, headaches, and fatigue. Expert advice: Talk about the day ahead, limit screen time, and pay more attention to girls and children who entered the pandemic with mental health or sleep issues.
– Step back. We all want our children to succeed. Yet the high-profile examples of Valieva and American gymnast Simone Biles show the danger of a win-at-all-costs mentality, but this also extends to the pressure parents put on their children with schoolwork, sports participation and other activities.
—Find ways to get children and teachers back to class safely. This shouldn’t be a political issue, but it’s fair that being out of school leads to a lack of social interaction, greater chances of distraction, and technological challenges, especially for students in areas rural areas without broadband access.
More than 1,000 bills with the phrase “mental health” in the title or summary have been proposed in the current session of Congress. Only 11 were enacted, of which 83 passed a chamber. The long list of mental health provisions in the Build Back Better Act could best be detached from the bloated bill and considered separately.
The bipartisan Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Act, which would authorize direct financial assistance to school districts for comprehensive student mental health promotion and suicide prevention efforts and expand funding beyond colleges and universities to K-12 school districts, is one such bill.
Passing it would be a good start.