Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and suicidality amongst young people has been increasing in recent years and causing major concern for mental health professionals. While increase in mental illness is a scary reality, an important question to ask is “why?” The answer is multi-fold and complex, but we can look to some common aspects that may be part of a pattern.
In this podcast episode, Dr. Kate Balestrieri and Dr. Sulman Aziz Mirza discuss the concerning increase of mental health concerns for children and adolescents, risk factors to be aware of, and what can be done on an individual and societal level.
The Current Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United Sates, 4.4% of children age individuals struggle with depression and 9.4% experience symptoms of anxiety. For adolescents aged 12 – 17 years old, 8.9% have a history of suicide attempt(s) in their lifetime and 15.7% have experienced suicidal thoughts and made a plan to attempt suicide. Just during first year of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020), 5,568 children/adolescents died by suicide. In the year 2021, suicide was in the top 9 leading cause of death for children 10 – 14 years old.
The current statistics on mental health and suicide rates are staggering and indicate that children are more predisposed than ever to developing a mental health condition or struggling with suicidality. There are common risk factors that can help families and mental health professionals determine if someone is more vulnerable to dealing with mental illness.
Risk Factors for Depression, Anxiety and Suicide in Children
There are common risk factors we can look to when assessing if a child might be more vulnerable to struggling with their mental health. Some of those risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- Family history of mental illness
- Lower socioeconomic status
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Physical or emotional neglect
- Witnessing domestic abuse
- Parental divorce or separation
- Experiencing bullying
- Exposure to substance abuse
- One or both caregivers incarcerated
Risk factors do not guarantee that a child will eventually develop symptoms of a mental illness, however, it makes a child more vulnerable to mental health and behavioral issues.
How to Help Children Struggling with Their Mental Health
There are thankfully actions that can be taken by families, schools, mental health professionals, and society to make the world a safer place for children and eventually decrease the risk of suicide and other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
Encourage children to talk about their thoughts and feelings
For children, it can sometimes be hard to express thoughts and feelings, especially uncomfortable ones like sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness. One of the best things we can do for children is to allow them to freely express their feelings without interjecting a different narrative.
For example, a young girl going through puberty should not be told she is “just hormonal” when she appears to be going through emotional hardships. A young boy should not be told to “stop crying and man up” when he is upset about something. When children can identify and safely communicate their emotions, it’s more likely they will be able to open up when they are struggling with their mental health.
Believe children’s experiences
If a child says they are going through mental health challenges, believe them. There is sometimes a narrative that children act out because they “just want attention.” Even if that is true, the child is still trying to communicate that they need support, and they likely just don’t know how to directly ask for it. Believe children when they verbally or non-verbally communicate signs they are struggling and need help.
Seek professional help if needed
If a child’s mental health is of concern and feels out of the depth of what you feel capable to help with, there is nothing wrong with seeking professional help. Mental illness can be hard for loved ones to navigate and bringing a therapist into the picture can ensure the child is getting all the emotional support they need.
Mental illness in children is a reality we as a society need to take very seriously. Children’s mental health is worth protecting for their individual wellbeing and creating a more thriving world. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also call the crisis text line by texting TALK to 741741.
Dr. Sulman Aziz Mirza, MD is a psychiatrist who is triple Board Certified in Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as well as Addiction Medicine. He completed his Psychiatry Residency at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, and his Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at the University of Maryland and Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.
Dr. Mirza has had the privilege to work in a variety of settings, from inpatient psychiatric units with medical capabilities to the classrooms of Baltimore City public schools. He has learned from some of the leaders and pioneers in the field of psychiatry, and his experiences have allowed him to develop a deep understanding of neuropsychiatric conditions in both children and adults.
His unique experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist provides a valuable perspective when working with adult patients, as he understands how early experiences can affect an individual’s mental health later in life. Additionally, his board certification in Addiction Medicine allows him to understand individuals struggling with addiction better and be non-judgmental in his approach.
Dr. Mirza is knowledgeable and experienced with the latest pharmacological interventions and therapy modalities. However, he believes that every individual is different and seeks care for a unique reason. His practice is based on the belief that each person deserves the same respect and treatment that he would demand for himself.
He is active on TikTok @kicksshrink
Dr. Kate and Dr. Mirza discuss Psych meds such as Ketamine and the concept of treatment resistant depression and frustrations with the insurance system that can hold up or deny necessary treatment prescriptions.
They also talk about how mental health is handled by the media, specifically how the media handles suicide reporting. It is important for journalists to not say examples of suicide.
Algorithms have shown that specifics are then researched and there can be ideas put in people’s heads that may not be there already.
Dr.Mirza sees a sharp increase in cases of depression, adhd, suicide attempts, addictions and discusses why.
Listen to this episode on this very current and important topic.