Written By: Oliver Crandon
“Unlike other illnesses, issues with mental health are often left untreated until they reach stage 4.” This sobering statement was said at a Mental Health Symposium I recently attended in Dallas, Texas, and was a strong reminder of the urgent need for continued mental health awareness, especially among our youth.
Here are some additional alarming statistics in regard to students and their mental health:
- National 4-H Council Survey of approximately 1,500 students reported 61 percent of students say the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness.
- The Rox Institute for Research and Training found that 1 in 4 female students are battling depression (1,273 teen girls surveyed).
- Mental Health America disclosed in September of 2020, more than half of kids ages 11-17 reported thinking frequently about suicide.
These staggering facts unveil the impact this pandemic is having on our children and students, highlighting the urgency for intentional discussions with youth regarding mental health.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Mental Health
When the pandemic hit, our lives drastically changed. Social norms were replaced with social distancing, and the wearing of masks became standard. Many people have dealt with unbearable loss. The numbers of cases and deaths have been closely monitored to see if protective measures are actually working, and overtime, we have adjusted as advised. However, the numbers related to our mental health have not been monitored as closely. According to a Fox Business report, we still do not know the full ramifications this pandemic will have on today’s youth in relation to their social, emotional and mental well-being. There is also a severe learning gap occurring, and the academic learning loss among today’s youth is said to be staggering.
According to a survey of 1,000 students by wellbeings.org, students are expressing that their mental health is worse than it was before the pandemic began. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization have also highlighted the increase in isolation and stress among kids and teens. Students need community. Unfortunately, the pandemic has viciously disrupted the social structures that they have thrived in. Many students are dealing with loneliness and isolation at unprecedented levels (Support For Teens and Young Adults | CDC).
Warning Signs in Severe Cases
Anyone is susceptible to mental health struggles. The pressures of life, and the unpredictable experiences of trauma can cause anyone to feel depressed, anxious, and at times, helpless. These struggles can be prevalent among students as well. There are circumstances where these emotions can be so overwhelming that intervention is needed. These include:
- The death of a loved one
- Family problems
- Separation & divorce
- Unsafe home life
- Abuse or neglect
- Financial problems
- Being the victim of bullying or cyberbullying
- …and many others
Dealing with these concerns can cause depression, irritable moods, and even a loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed. We should also remember to look for changes in appetite or weight because of stress. Are they expressing feelings of guilt or worthlessness? Or having recurring thoughts of death or suicide? These are all red flags signifying that intervention may be needed. Vanita Halliburton, co-founder and executive chairman of the Grant Halliburton Foundation, said, “We should adopt the 3,2,1 rule in these cases. If you see 3 or more of these depressive signs, for more than 2 weeks, happening all at 1 time, then intervention is needed.”
Positive Coping Skills
So how can we manage life’s ups and downs and teach our students to do the same? The CDC suggests, “Connectedness is an important protective factor for youth that can reduce the likelihood of poor mental health.” The first and most important step is keeping them connected. At Just Say YES, we believe:
“A connected student is a protected student.”®
Students should be assured that it’s okay to push the pause button. The stresses of everyday life can be overwhelming, so it’s vital to share this acronym with them as a reminder of what to do when they have feelings of stress or anxiety:
S.T.A.R. (Stop. Take a deep breath. And. Relax.)
Life can be tough, but by taking the necessary steps to optimize one’s mental health, we can stay resilient and teach our students to do the same while in community.
For more information about Just Say YES and how our programs are addressing mental health, please visit our Contact Us page.