Youth Mental Health – We Need So Many More Resources 

Written by James Curtin, Chief Business & Government Relations Officer, Acenda

According to the US Surgeon General, mental health challenges are the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people. Tragically, in recent years we’ve seen significant increases in certain mental health disorders in youth such as depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation which in a growing number of young people, result in a suicide attempt.  

Youth mental health is a crucial issue that deserves our attention. With the increasing pressure on young people to succeed academically, socially, and professionally, mental health issues have become more prevalent among young people. 

One of the most common mental health issues affecting youth is anxiety. Anxiety can take many forms, such as social anxiety, performance anxiety, and general anxiety disorder. Young people can experience intense worry, fear, and unease about everyday situations, which can negatively impact their lives. Anxiety can lead to poor academic performance, difficulty making friends, and even physical symptoms such as stomachaches and headaches. 

Another common mental health issue among youth is depression. Depression can cause feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness. Youth with depression may struggle to find joy in their daily lives, which can lead to social isolation, poor academic performance, and even thoughts of self-harm. 

Eating disorders are also a common mental health issue among young people. Eating disorders include conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. These disorders can cause severe physical and mental health problems, including malnutrition, heart problems, and depression. 

The causes of youth mental health problems are varied and complex. Genetics, environmental factors, and life events can all contribute to mental health issues. Additionally, cultural and societal expectations can put pressure on young people, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.  

Recent studies have shown that children were spared the worst effects of COVID 19, but their mental health was a different story. According to medical experts, lockdowns, school closings, and restrictions on social gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus, coupled with a lack of access to in-person services, exacerbated a mental health treatment gap for children. Low-income children were also disproportionately affected. Few will deny the legacy of the pandemic will be mental health, with our youth especially being affected. 

Where do we go from here?

The attention, and quite frankly the funding from the federal government associated with this issue are promising. It should be noted that in May of 2022, the White House hosted a forum to explore the growing youth mental health crisis. This kind of attention and leadership is absolutely required.  

The statement below from the President and CEO of MTV, who also served as forum leadership, summarizes some of the most important work that can be accomplished in this area.  

“As the rise of mental health issues have created a second pandemic, especially among young people, MTV Entertainment convened a coalition of entertainment leaders and mental health experts to harness the power of storytelling with the goal of ending the stigma surrounding mental health. In coordination with the Biden-Harris administration and an impressive coalition of leading mental health nonprofits, we are going a step further and empowering young people to use storytelling to share their powerful voices and diverse experiences to help themselves and support others, ” stated Chris McCarthy, President and CEO, MTV Entertainment Group. 

The National Governor’s Association, led by New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, is also focused on the child mental health crisis and making this issue front and center. The New Jersey Governor currently chairs the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and has made this issue a priority for not only the NGA, but also for his own administration in New Jersey. 

Governor Murphy remarked, “the youth mental health crisis and the relentless toll it takes on families, educators, providers, and communities can be felt in cities and states across the country.” 

It seems that public/private partnerships are what is needed most to ensure that prevention, treatment and recovery pathways are all multiplied and accessible to every community in the United States. The existing system where youth should be supported at home, at school, and in their communities cannot meet the rapidly growing demand spurred on by the pandemic, mainly due to severe workforce shortages of prevention workers, of treatment professionals, and of peer support workers.  

What can we do specifically?
  1. Increase access to mental health services. Many young people who struggle with mental health issues do not have access to adequate resources or support. Increasing access to mental health services such as therapy, counseling, and psychiatric care can help more young people get the help they need. 
  2. Promote mental health awareness and education. Raising awareness about mental health and providing education on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems can help reduce stigma and encourage young people to seek help when they need it. 
  3. Provide early intervention and prevention programs. Early intervention and prevention programs can help identify mental health issues early on and provide support before they become more severe. This can include programs in schools, community centers, and other settings that provide mental health screenings, counseling, and support services. 
  4. Increase funding for mental health research. More research is needed to better understand the causes and treatments for mental health disorders in youth. Increasing funding for research can help identify more effective treatments and interventions. 
  5. Address social and environmental factors. Many social and environmental factors can contribute to poor mental health in young people, including poverty, discrimination, and trauma. Addressing these factors through social policies, community programs, and advocacy efforts can help improve mental health outcomes for youth. 
  6. Foster a culture of support and acceptance. Creating a culture that supports and accepts young people with mental health issues can help reduce stigma and encourage more open communication about mental health. This can include promoting mental health awareness campaigns, providing resources for support groups, and encouraging young people to share their stories and experiences.

In conclusion, youth mental health is an essential issue that deserves our attention. We must work to reduce stigma and improve access to care for young people struggling with mental health issues. By doing so, we can help young people lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. 

To learn more about this topic and hear testimonials from two Rowan College of South Jersey students, tune into our live webinar, “Not Your Parent’s Treatment Plan” – Considerations for Gen Z and Mental Health on May 25th at 10:00 am. Visit the AIHI events page for more information.  Webinar can be accessed anytime after the live event.