A health official said Black youth were in crisis long before COVID-19 devastated the world but no national public health crisis was called. (Courtesy of psycom.net)
**FILE** A health official said Black youth were in crisis long before COVID-19 devastated the world but no national public health crisis was called. (Courtesy of psycom.net)

Mental health disorders stand as a significant challenge for American teenagers, according to researchers who said the pervasiveness of such illnesses failed to be a major concern decades ago.

In fact, 30 years ago, most health experts reported that primary concerns about teens included pregnancy, smoking, drunk driving and binge drinking.

But the latest statistics reveal that in 2019, 13 percent of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode, which the Pew Research noted equated to a 60 percent increase from 2007.

The report reveals that emergency room visits by children and adolescents in that period also rose sharply for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm.

And for individuals ages 10 to 24, suicide rates, stable from 2000 to 2007, leaped nearly 60 percent by 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Further, the mental health of Black American youth “was in crisis long before COVID-19 devastated the world but no national public health crisis was called,” Dr. Amanda Calhoun, an adult/child psychiatry resident at Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, wrote for Med Page Today.

“In 2019, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Emergency Taskforce on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health released a report documenting the alarming increases in Black youth suicide rates,” Dr. Calhoun noted.

“The suicide death rates among Black youth have been increasing faster than those of any other racial/ethnic group in America and Black youth under 13 years old are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to their white peers.”

Dr. Calhoun also cited preliminary federal data which noted the suicide rate for Black girls and women ages 10 to 24 increased more than 30 percent in 2020 and by 23 percent among Black boys and men in the same age group.

“Yet, many suicide predictor models continue to list ‘white race’ as a factor that increases risk of suicide and the myth that Black youth do not commit suicide persists,” Dr. Calhoun reported.

During the pandemic, children, adolescents and young adults have faced unprecedented challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed their world, including how they attend school, interact with friends and receive health care.

According to a 52-page advisory from U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, children missed first days of school, months or even years of in-person schooling, graduation ceremonies, sports competitions, playdates and time with relatives.

Reportedly, D.C. has the lowest prevalence of teens with demonstrated mental health challenges.

With an 8.69% prevalence rate, the District counts way below the 11.06% national average, officials claim.

Still, as of June 2021, more than 140,000 children in the U.S. had lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19.

Matt Richtel, a best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the New York Times, spent more than a year interviewing adolescents and their families for a series on the mental health crisis.

“In mid-April, I was speaking to the mother of a suicidal teenager whose struggles I’ve been closely following. I asked how her daughter was doing,” Richtel reported.

“Not well,” the mother said.

“If we can’t find something drastic to help this kid, this kid will not be here long-term.” Richtel said to the mother who began to cry. 

“It’s out of our hands, it’s out of our control,” she said. “We’re trying everything. It’s like waiting for the end.”

Over nearly 18 months of reporting, Richtel got to know many adolescents and their families and interviewed dozens of doctors, therapists, and experts in the science of adolescence, often hearing “wrenching stories of pain and uncertainty.”

His finding only amplified what medical experts have broadcast. Since the pandemic began, there have been increases in the rates of psychological distress among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders.

“The pandemic has been challenging for most people, yet the teenage population, particularly females, have suffered tremendously,” Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, explained in a recent email.

“Given the importance of social connections during adolescence, many teens have felt extremely isolated, lonely and depressed as a result of the constraining nature of the pandemic,” she said. “Many teens have turned to social media use for connection, yet social media has its own host of stressors and often increases anxiety and can foster low self-esteem.”

And while many parents fear that talking about these issues may exacerbate the situation, Dr. Manly said, “in truth, teens – even the most independent ones – need their parents’ steady presence and gentle guidance.”

Dr. Jeannette R. Craigfeld, a clinical psychologist at the Therapy Group of D.C. in Northwest, said friends and family must be willing to listen and to try to understand the thoughts of a loved one.

“Let them know that you’re willing to listen whenever they want to talk and that you can also just sit with them if that’s what they need,” Dr. Craigfeld said. “Give your loved one permission to be wherever they’re at with their depression and anxiety and that they don’t need to force themselves to seem okay around you.”

“Remember that there are no easy fixes for mental illness. It’s also important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well since it’s hard to care for others if you’re not at your best first. Permit yourself to take time for yourself whenever you need to and do things that are soothing for you,” she said.

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Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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