Adolescent mental health issues hit crisis levels during pandemic
Three hundred and seventy students attend Minnehaha’s upper school. Based on recently released research finding that one in five adolescents suffer from a diagnosed mental health disorder, this means that seventy-four of Minnehaha’s close-knit community of students have likely been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other mental health issues. Stated differently, out of the four classes enrolled in the upper school, a group equal in size to this year’s senior class—which has about seventy-four students—is struggling with a diagnosed mental health issue.
The statistics speak for themselves: There is a mental health crisis in America. There is a mental health crisis at Minnehaha.
Even more concerning, these statistics are only based on people with professionally diagnosed mental health disorders. In reality, even more students are struggling with mental health issues but lack the resources to access a diagnosis or fear the stigma of being labeled as struggling with mental health.
If you are not yourself part of the one in five, you likely are a friend trying to support someone, a family member trying to find resources for someone, or a teacher trying to help a student navigate school with mental health issues. In other words, even if you are one of the lucky few who fall outside of the diagnosed one in five, this crisis still affects you.
“I think [for] a lot of teens who had anxiety before the pandemic [that anxiety] has been exacerbated by COVID,” notes Maureen Rivord, a clinical therapist with Twin Cities Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Centers, specializing in counseling adolescents. “On the flip side, I see a lot of teens who became comfortable at home over quarantine and now…returning to school or work is a lot harder,” said Rivord. “We are living in a time of isolation and [the pandemic] has taken away from a lot of the typical high school experience…as humans we need to be social”
Ask any adult you know, without a doubt they will tell you that middle and high school have always been hard and a time of tulmolt for adolescents. The pandemic, however, has taken those normalized difficult years and introduced a new set of deep-seated mental health problems.
“I wish I could feel the way I felt before the pandemic again,” said sophomore Jack Quale, laughing. “I don’t know if there is any correlation [between Covid and mental health], it might just be the process of growing up that’s so hard.” Quale reflects, “But I remember feeling so isolated..you know when the pandemic started…you truly become the only thing you can rely on and in times of change it’s easy to lose yourself.”
Throughout the first year of the pandemic alone, depression rates tripled, and as the pandemic dragged on, the number of adolescents battling mental illness in America continued to skyrocket. To put the numbers into perspective, prior to the pandemic, 8% of adolescents had an anxiety disorder and 4% had a depressive disorder. Now, a mere two years later, it is estimated that about 20% of all teens will battle depression before they ever reach adulthood and an astounding 32% of adolescents have a diagnosed anxiety disorder.
There are a lot of people struggling…a lot within our community,” said freshman Finley Lefevbre. “Whatever the reason, I think its obvious we have a problem with mental health.”
In addition to the novel widespread nature of these recent mental health issues, the recent and rapid spike of mental health issues that accompanied COVID-19 presents a new problem for communities because it presents a crisis that was completely unexpected and one our country was unprepared for.
“Inpatient treatment centers and emergency rooms are actually running out of beds,” said Rivord. “You could end up waiting in the hospital for a week during a crisis just to get the care you need.” Rivord continues, “Even therapy is pretty impossible to get into right now, especially [therapists that are] covered by insurance.”
With the ever-growing hospitalization rates for mental health, states are running out of resources to serve this growing need. Mental health issues have become increasingly common, and in turn, help is becoming increasingly rare to obtain. Need therapy? You better be rich, or dying. Preferably both.
An anonymous Minnehaha student was willing to share fragments of his journey and trials he faced while battling severe mental health issues.
“Things kinda started going downhill when quarantine started, so I guess a few years ago, but it was manageable up until this summer. “[This summer] I wasn’t taking care of myself…I started getting really tired and irritable…lashing out at people.” The student continued, “When school started things just kept getting worse.” He reflected, “I had had struggles in the past but was always able to get help in time.” “My grades began dropping but I had no motivation to do homework, I was so upset with myself and my family was mad.” The student explained, “I uh, I could barely keep myself going and school honestly felt like the least of my problems…by the time my family realized I needed help I was really deep in it, not to mention it was impossible to actually get help.” When asked about how he found resources to begin to recover, the student explained “I was on the waitlist for a 30 minute meeting with a psychiatrist for over half a year, the [mental health support] system is so overloaded, it’s insane.”
The student ended by explaining, “COVID made it so much harder to make plans with people and [therefore made it] easier to isolate myself from friends and family…. And honestly social media didn’t help, I felt like I was constantly comparing myself to other people and picking up unhealthy habits.”
As the pandemic continues to drag on, more people are stepping forward and sharing their stories. While the raw statistics are startling to unveil, it is unlikely we will know the full implications of the pandemic on today’s adolescents and youth for years to come.
While there is immense pain and suffering, there is also a growing sense of awareness and support both outside and within the Minnehaha community. If you are struggling with mental health do not hesitate to make noise, do not make yourself smaller for the sake of others, and do not withhold your story for the comfort of those around you. You deserve to be heard, you deserve help.
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