NOTE: This op-ed by CEO Gail Lapidus, which appeared in the Jan. 30 edition of The Tulsa World (view here), is the inaugural step in a new community awareness campaign focused on identifying and treating anxiety, depression and suicide among young people in the Tulsa area.
By Gail Lapidus
Think back to your own adolescence and recall the pressures you faced: navigating physical changes, friendships, school and family life. Now, overlay the added perpetual sense of adversity, uncertainty and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and you’ll begin to understand why we are seeing soaring rates of mental health challenges among young people.
Parents around the country report an overall decline of their children’s mental health with elevated symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological distress. It’s easy to conclude that COVID has been terribly damaging to our mental health.
Children and teens are showing up at school, counseling and hospital emergency rooms with more mental distress than before the pandemic. Some teens are highly anxious or aggressive, while others are overwhelmed with depression and thoughts of suicide.
There has been a significant rise in suicide rates among 10- to 24-year-olds, with more than 6,600 suicides reported in 2020, according to a recent report by the U.S. surgeon general. Emergency rooms across the country report that suicide attempts were 51% higher for adolescent girls in 2021 compared to 2019.
During the pandemic, displacement from school created a major disruption to day-to-day structures, routines and social connectivity that young people depend on for their well-being. When they lose a sense of predictability and normalcy, high mental distress can occur. Prolonged states of isolation and loneliness also disrupt adolescent friendships — a primary resource for emotional support.
This situation is exacerbated for teens who pick up on their parents’ distress. Forty percent of adults have experienced greater mental health challenges over the past year. Some are worried about getting sick with the virus or fear losing a loved one. Others worry about losing their job and home. Many feel overburdened by balancing hybrid work and their children’s changing school routines.
About 4 in 10 adults report symptoms of anxiety or depression, compared to 1 in 10 adults in 2019, before the pandemic. This accumulation of stressors with no end in sight can foster poor mental health outcomes for families. And those who are economically and technologically disadvantaged face even greater challenges.
Parents must do everything they can to take care of their own mental health so they can provide a stable and supportive environment for their children. They also can have open and frequent conversations with their children about COVID and how it has changed their lives. Remind them that the pandemic will be over one day, and set up daily routines to foster stability.
Parents must also watch closely for early warning signs of mental health distress. Talk to your children and ask about their mental health. Ask about their friends’ mental health. If children or teens express concerns, talk to your pediatrician or seek professional mental health care.
Schools are the easiest way for kids to access mental health services, with many offering on-site therapists. When school is disrupted, children lose their channel to help.
As a primary provider of mental health services in the Tulsa area, Family & Children’s Services is doing everything we can to meet these challenges and provide the help our young people need, as we have for 100 years.
Our team of compassionate professionals provides children and their families with individually tailored services designed to overcome a wide range of emotional, behavioral or relationship problems — from mild to severe. Through providing problem-specific outpatient and home-based therapy services (in-person or telehealth), children learn social and coping skills to address mental health challenges, along with strategies to improve behavior and school performance.
Anyone in the community can call the Family & Children’s Crisis line — COPES, 918-744-4800 — which is staffed by specially trained, highly professional counselors 24/7 and is free and confidential. Or anyone can call 918-587-9471 to schedule an appointment to determine an individual’s treatment options.
It’s OK to ask for help. Call us. That’s why we’re here.
Gail Lapidus is the chief executive officer of Family & Children’s Services.