Addressing the youth mental health pandemic

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, this year celebrated in May, CVN presents a four-week series in which mental health professionals from HopeNet of Carpinteria discuss different aspects of mental health and the resources available to residents in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.   

 

Carpinteria is coping with a mental health pandemic following the viral pandemic that has deeply affected our youth. Due to the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2018-2019 school year was shortened by 32%. These closures and lockdowns have caused mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression among youth; they experienced social isolation or disconnection, and suffered dislocation and food insecurity due to the economic situation. Some were affected by illnesses or the loss of loved ones, especially children of color and low-income families.

Mental health professionals have observed trends among students locally and nationally. About 25% of children and 20% of teens have reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, including school avoidance – double pre-pandemic estimates. We must work together with focused intention as a community to address this urgent problem.

 What can parents do to support the mental health of their children? Be sure your child is getting adequate sleep, eating healthy and getting exercise. Ensure they spend quality time connecting with family and friends. Promote and model self-compassion and positive thinking. Show warmth and sensitivity when your child is stressed and express confidence they can handle their problems. Support them in keeping up with homework. Encourage them to pursue hobbies and extracurricular activities. Some screen time is okay, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the activities above.

Look for emotional symptoms of anxiety or depression in teens, including: recurring fears and worries, irritability, increased anger, sadness, crying spells, hopelessness, loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities or relationships and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Other signs include trouble concentrating, sensitivity to criticism, withdrawal, social isolation, avoidance of difficult or new situations, chronic body complaints, drop in grades or school refusal, sleep problems, substance use, conflicts, low self-esteem, exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism, loss of energy, changes in appetite, agitation or restlessness, slowed speaking or body movements, less attention to personal hygiene or appearance, disruptive or risky behavior, self-harm and/or thoughts of suicide.

If you suspect your child may be showing symptoms of anxiety or depression, contact your child’s pediatrician, a school counselor or school psychologist right away. They can assist with referrals to school or community resources. 

You can also call the 24-hour Behavioral Wellness Access Line at (888) 868-1649. For young people who may be experiencing an emotional or behavioral crisis through age 22, call SAFTY at (888) 334-2777 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. 

Community members can help by volunteering to coach, work with a local youth organization or with a teen project through the Art Center. Become a mentor through the CADA Mentor Program; there is a high need. Together we can restore the mental and emotional health of our beloved young people who are the hope for our future.

 

 

 

Becki Norton is a founding member and board secretary for HopeNet. She is also a  Carpinteria Unified School District psychologist.

 

HopeNet of Carpinteria is a group of concerned residents that provide education and resources to prevent suicide. HopeNet’s mission is to improve the mental wellness of community residents and to lessen the number of attempted and completed suicides in the community through information, support, training and advocacy. HopeNet hopes to create a stronger safety net. Learn more at hopenetofcarp.org. 

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