CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Facing a rising tide of mental illness among children, the top pediatricians in the U.S. are calling the mental health of children and teens a national emergency.
Between February and March of 2021, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts were up 51% compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Clinical psychologist Dr. John Duffy said the emergency is taking place “in the shadows.” Kids seal themselves off with electronic devices and other means that allow them to hide what’s truly going on. He said the crisis has been building for more than a decade.
“It’s not over, it’s not as obvious as one might think it would be. Though for more than a decade, we have had truly a crisis in mental health among young people,” Duffy said.
The surge in mental disorders among parents can create a “sick house” phenomenon in which the disorders of the children and the parents feed off each other and worsen the conditions of both while appearing like a normal household to anyone on the outside looking in.
The pandemic exacerbated the problem, with parents working remotely and kids doing virtual schooling, so everyone was locked in the house together, a potential recipe for disaster.
“It’s striking how if we have a sick household — in other words, an emotionally unwell household — it goes down from the parents to the children and back again,” Duffy said. “It’s a circular kind of pattern, and it is very difficult to break, and during the pandemic with everybody spending so much together, this has just exacerbated it. It’s just gotten worse.”
Duffy said schools desperately need to provide more social/emotional learning (SEL) classes. He also advocates for more social workers in schools, especially in underserved populations.
He said schools need in-house psychologists experienced in recognizing the signs of kids at risk and to “teach kids to be aware of what they are suffering.”
He advised parents to check in with their kids, going beyond the casual, “How are you doing?” to real conversations and active listening.
“Make sure that even your kids who seem to be functioning really well are doing OK, because kids can fake good really, really well,” Duffy said.
Finally, Duffy suggested having no phones in the sleeping area and also having a period of “slow down” time before bed when electronics are off-limits to “change the tone and the tenor of your household over time.”
Since social media can be a huge contributor to everything from body image issues to paranoia among teens, cutting down on exposure, especially before bed, is also a good idea.