Last week all the press was covering the presidential election wall-to-wall. I was both surprised and encouraged that TIME Magazine chose not to report on the upcoming election but instead utilized prime real estate, their front cover to raise the awareness of Adolescent Anxiety and Depression. That move says a lot about the importance of addressing what I like to call a “silent epidemic” in our nation. In a nutshell “The Kids Are Not Alright.”
At D. Knight Marketing, we specialize in generational engagement and we are seeing stress levels in all generations at all time highs. Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers worry about their children, their retirement, and their health insurance. Millennials are even more anxious due to college loan debts, a stagnant economy, an uncertain job market and now President-elect Trump but it is today’s teens that give me the most concern.
Anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012. The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a study that shows the number of teens experiencing a major depressive episode or MDE has increased by 37% since 2012. In 2015, more than 3 million teens experienced a MDE. Nearly 30% of girls and 20% of boys; 6.3 million teens have an anxiety disorder that impedes their daily function according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Unfortunately, this number is lower than reality because of the unreported cases of MDEs driven by the social stigma around mental health that is still rampant in our society.
Despite the dramatic rise in teen anxiety and depression, what is more, troubling is the fact that there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in mental health treatment for teens especially in schools where they spend the majority of their time and where teachers bay be able to notice signs that maybe the parents are not seeing.
There are many theories about why teens are so stressed out. Teens, or Generation Z today have a reputation for being thin-skinned, and more fragile than their parents were when they were growing up. Their parents grew up as latchkey kids who were on their own for much of their childhood. They had to “figure things out” without a lot of guidance. Today’s parents are more in tune with their kids sometimes to the detriment of the child. They are often there to swoop in and ‘fix it”. Everyone has heard the term “helicopter parents.” They have great intentions, they love their children, they want them to succeed and never fail. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. The problem is that failure is one of life’s best teachers. In the real world, not everyone gets a trophy for just showing up so when teens grow and start facing challenges they often lack the coping skills to manage the challenges without extreme anxiety.
Social media has also contributed to the anxiety and depression. Janis Whitlock, Director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery says, “Over-parenting and school stress are contributing factors, but it’s much bigger than that. “It’s that they’re in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t or don’t want to get away from or don’t know how to get away from.” The phone is always on feeding them a constant live feed of information and images of perfections that are impossible to match. Parents are not immune. They used to be able to cut it off at 5:00 and enjoy quality family time at night and on the weekends. Now work emails, phone calls, and text can come at all hours so in essence, they can never, completely detach from their jobs and that may cause them to miss signs of anxiety and depressive episodes with their children.
So how can we help parents? I am a big proponent of schools taking the lead in attacking anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. They must do their part to remove the social stigma while educating their teachers and parents on how to identify early signs of trouble before the students move into harmful and dangerous coping behaviors like substance abuse, self-harm or worse yet, suicide.
Unfortunately, many school districts are slow to act and tend to place mental health and behavior issues in the “that is the parent’s responsibility” column. Until recently, you would rarely see schools making a stand on mental health unless God forbid, there was a mass shooting or something of that caliber that tends to be connected to mentally ill perpetrators. However, there is some positive movement as of late, and I think it is because there is now real data that connects mental health to “the test” or student achievement. Schools are finally acknowledging that anxiety and depression are affecting kids’ behavior and their ability to learn which can lead to dropping out or home school.
While schools are starting to acknowledge there could be a mental health crisis, they are still budget-crunched, so it’s hard to deploy more mental health resources. Yes, most schools have wonderful, passionate school counselors but they are often responsible for more than 500 kids and have other duties as well, often including administering the state mandated tests which is a major source of teen anxiety. It is up to the schools to get creative and ask for help. They must reach out to community-based organizations and explore district-wide relationships with companies that offer new technology-based solutions like teletherapy.
DKMC has been blessed to be retained by one of those companies, BetterHelp. BetterHelp for Students provides teens with professional counseling using their computer, tablet or mobile phone, anytime they need, anywhere they are. While this is no substitute for school-based counseling or in-person therapy, it can certainly help the 80% of teens suffering from mild to moderate anxiety and depression that are currently not being served.
The authors of the teen depression study said it best. “The growing number of depressed adolescents and young adults who do not receive any mental health treatment of their symptoms calls for renewed outreach efforts, especially in school and college health and counseling services and pediatric practices where many of the untreated adolescents and young adults with anxiety and depression may be detected and managed.
Schools may be slow to act but the fact that they are starting to discuss anxiety and depression and the fact that the media, specifically TIME Magazine is talking about it is encouraging.
Note: If you would like more information on how your school or child can get BetterHelp, please reach out to me and I’ll get you more information.