In May 2021, Colorado health leaders declared a state of emergency for youth mental health. While the youth mental health crisis has been increasing for years in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic pushed our mental health system to its breaking point. The combined impact of social isolation, remote learning, and COVID-19 related fears and anxieties have left youth throughout the country grappling with extreme cases of mental illness, without the support they need. Join us in rethinking the youth mental health crisis in Colorado and beyond in order to create a more supportive, and safe, environment for youth.
The Youth Mental Health Crisis in the U.S.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 6 youth in the U.S. between the ages of 6 and 17 experience a mental health disorder each year. In addition, the CDC regonizes suicide as the second leading cause of death among youth between the ages of 10 and 14.
All youth are not impacted in the same ways. LGBTQ+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth. In the juvenile justice system, 70.4% of youth are diagnosed with a mental illness. These youth are also 10 times more likely to suffer from psychosis than those not behind bars.
The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Youth Mental Health
Youth in the U.S. face unique challenges that adults do not as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Unlike adults, children under the age of 12 are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Considering the potential long term effects of the virus, including tiredness or fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and sleep problems, Long COVID could have overall impacts on a young person’s long-term mental health. So far, studies show that Long COVID is less likely to occur in children than adults. Yet, it still occurs.
The Impact of Social Isolation on Youth
Also, after a year of remote learning, we’ve come to realize that some if not most children and teens learn best in a physical learning environment. But as the Delta variant sweeps across the world, parents face an impossible decision. Should they send their unvaccinated kids to school and risk a COVID-19 infection? Or, do they keep them at home and risk increased mental health issues and limited educational development?
A lack of physical and social connection makes life for children and teens during the pandemic particularly challenging and lonely. The consequences can be seen in the numbers of youth experiencing mental health problems. In 2021, the number of youth experiencing a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) increased by 206,000. The number of youth experiencing a Severe MDE increased by 126,000. And for those diagnosed with mental health problems, they experience another barrier in access to mental health resources.
The Lack of Access to Mental Health Services Among Youth
Access to and use of mental health services is alarmingly low considering how prevalent mental health issues are among young people. In 2021, 59.6% of youth with major depression did not receive medical treatment, in the form of therapy or medication. In Colorado, 60.9% of youth experiencing major depression continue to go untreated.
Due to barriers such as limited coverage of mental health services and late recognition in primary care settings, many youth are unable to receive treatment in critical moments. In the U.S. in 2021, only 27.3% of youth with severe depression received some form of consistent treatment. In Colorado, it was only 21.5%.
As is clear with the statistics, Colorado’s mental health record among youth is below the national average, and the nation itself is undergoing a mental health crisis. Currently, Mental Health America ranks Colorado 42nd out of all states for youth mental health, meaning youth have higher rates of mental illness than the national average but less access to mental health care than the national average.
The Youth Mental Health Crisis in Colorado
When Colorado health officials declared a state of emergency for youth mental health in May 2021, it was in response to the alarming number of suicides among youth in the state. Currently, suicide is the leading cause of death for young Coloradans. In 2020, 67 youth between the ages of 10-19 took their own life, compared to 61 over the past five years.
There has also been an increase of Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatric emergency visits. Between January and April 2021, the Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatric emergency department received an increase of 72% of visits, compared to the same time period in 2019. Twice as many patients have shown increased depression, anxiety, social disconnection, and feeling of isolation since the year prior. In Colorado Springs, the increase rate of pediatric emergency visits is 145% when you compare the first four months of 2021 vs. 2020.
“I’ve been in practice for over 20 years in pediatrics,” said Dr. David Brumbaugh, chief medical officer for Children’s Hospital Colorado, “and I’ve never seen anything like the demand for mental health services in the last 15 months.”
Rethinking the Solution to the Crisis
COVID-19 has made the youth mental health crisis worse, but it has also made it impossible to ignore. As the crisis poses a serious mental and physical health risk to millions of youth in the U.S., it’s time to take it seriously.
We need to reconsider what has caused such a spike in depression and anxiety among youth and adults. Is it the normalized “grind” culture in which hard work is verzuz tv valued over everything else? Or are the societal pressures of a globalized world along with increased social media and tablet use to blame? Why have we been complacent as children have died from preventable mental health problems? We need to treat our mental health as a priority rather than an after-thought, and we need to teach our kids to do the same.
Destigmatizing Mental Illness
According to experts, the first step is destigmatizing mental illness. Currently, almost one third of U.S. citizens worry about being judged for seeking out resources for their mental health. Even if we increase mental health funding, the youth who need it the most might be too ashamed to ask for it. According to policy analyst, Patricia Paskov, increasing mental health education programs in schools and workplaces can help combat this issue.
Ending Stigma on an Individual Level
On an individual level, there are many ways to combat the mental health stigma in your communities and within yourself. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one tactic is to learn how to talk openly about your struggles Venom 2 with mental illness with others. Even if it’s just with one person, the practice can help make mental illness seem like less of a rare occurrence. When you know someone who is struggling, it can become more difficult to harbor negative thoughts about them.
Another way to destigmatize mental illness is to actively educate others when you can. If you overhear a conversation or offensive remark, practice kindly expressing how their conversation made you feel. Take the experience as an opportunity to explain why it’s important to end the stigma and change the narrative.
And if you are experiencing mental health problems, resist the stigma that comes from within you, too. That means, take special care to take care of yourself. Seek out treatment, even when you feel inner shame and embarrassment about it. Join a support group in order to feel connected to others going through similar experiences, it will help you feel less alone.
Increasing Access to Mental Health Care
The second step is increasing access to mental health care, in-person and virtually. As with most social issues in the U.S., the lack of funding makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make improvements. Health officials know what works to prevent teen suicide but have never been able to access sufficient funds to make it happen.
It was recently announced that up to $550 million of federal stimulus money will go toward mental health programs over the next two years, but officials worry it won’t be enough, or that it won’t last. In order to increase access to mental health care and allow that care to continue for those who need it, states need continued funding, not a one-time payment.
Pass The Mic To Youth Leaders
In more ways than one, national leaders have failed children across the nation. What if we passed the mic to the next generation of youth leaders? More so than their adult superiors, youth know what they are going through, and potentially what they need. Mental Health America advocates for expanded youth leadership at the local, state, and national levels to improve youth mental health in schools. Opening our ears to their voices can help us reconsider parts of their lived experiences that we have overlooked.
Rethink Youth Mental Health With Us
While the aforementioned ideas are valuable, do they shake up our current understanding of mental health? Ultimately, we need a multi-disciplined approach to the underlying causes of mental illness. Yes, health care professionals can diagnose youth and adults with mental illness, and provide them with the medication they need, but it can’t stop there. Our culture is riddled with discriminatoin, homophobia, poverty, bigotry, verzuz tickets immigration restrictions, crime, and violence, which all have an impact on mental health. Solving the mental health crisis can’t happen without also improving upon these societal failures. No prescription can overcome these issues a person faces.
TEDxMileHigh Talks on Mental Health
Learn more about different ways of thinking about mental health by watching TEDxMileHigh speakers and experts on the subject.
In his TEDxMileHigh talk, Christopher A. Lowry explores his research on the microbiome gut-brain access. Essentially, the study of how the bacteria we are exposed to can impact our brains. His studies involve using bacteria with anti-inflammatory properties for dj headphone both the prevention and the treatment of trauma and stressor-related disorders, like PTSD. Lowry believes that further study of the microbiome gut-brain access has the potential of opening up a whole new world of options for the prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders.
Lowry isn’t alone. The emerging specialty of nutritional psychiatry shows how whole dietary changes can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. Lowry anticipates a future where doctors may prescribe a certain diet to treat depression. Or a “green” prescription for increased exposure to nature. Watch Lowry’s talk below and check out our interview with Lowry.
In order to end the current youth mental health crisis, we are in need of new and innovative solutions like these. Explore how virtual reality could improve mental health and how Denver is replacing police with mental health care workers to respond to 911 calls.
At TEDxMileHigh, we want to invite you to innovate, and think outside of the box. Join us at Rethink, our next in-person event, to rethink what’s possible. Register here.
In the meantime, if you have youth in your life, use this as a reminder to spend time with them, check-in with them, and think about them.
If you are currently struggling and need to speak with someone, please contact:
- National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
- Colorado Crisis and Support Line: 1-844-493-TALK (8255) (has mental health professionals available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year)
- Text an anonymous crisis counselor: 741741
- Trevor Project: 866-488-7386 (24/7) or Live Chat with the Trevor Project (Daily 3pm- 9pm EST)
- GLBT National Youth Talk: 1-800-246-7743 (Monday-Friday, 4pm-12 am EST/Saturday, 12pm-5pm EST) or email the GLBT National Youth Talk
- Mental Health Resources for Young People of Color