The Current State of Mental Health

By Christy Lenahan - Macaroni Kid Health Hacks Contributor February 18, 2021

Since the beginning of the of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals and families have had to face a number of uncertainties affecting their health and economic well-being. The toll these uncertainties have taken on the mental health of adults and children is easily demonstrated in numbers. The Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the number of adults experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders rose from 11% during January 2019 to June 2019 to 41.1% in January 2021. These symptoms were most prevalent in adults ages 18-24 (56.2%) and ages 25-49 (48.9%).

In children, the CDC reported increases in all mental health related visits from March to October of 2020 when compared to March to October of 2019. Among children ages 5 to 11, there was an increase of 24% overall and among children ages 12 to 17, there was an increase of 31% overall. Further, 2020 statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention listed suicide as the second leading cause of death for persons in Louisiana ages 10 to 14 and third leading cause of death for persons in Louisiana ages 15 to 34.

Reasons for the increase in mental health issues among children and adults vary but can be associated with the pandemic, including economic concerns for adults and social isolation for children and adolescents. Preventive measures are key in decreasing the numbers of anxiety and/or depressive disorders as well as suicide attempts. The first step is being able to identify signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, which may include: unusual sadness or irritability, loss of interest in normal activities, shifts in sleep patterns (sleeping more or less), sluggishness, problems with memory, change in weight, harsh self-assessment (“I’m not smart enough.”), change in appearance, or thoughts or attempts of suicide. 

Other measures parents can take in supporting the emotional and behavioral needs of children (as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics); include having open and honest discussions about the pandemic and other stressful current events. Watch the news with your children so they can ask questions – consider pre-recording so you can pause and discuss the different topics. If your child seems overwhelmed by the information, consider limiting his or her exposure. Also, allow kids to socialize safely as children and adolescents are in a critical period of social learning and social isolation can be detrimental to their development. Finally, promote resilience by being “present, empathetic, and nurturing.”

If you, your child, or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts or is considering suicide; please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

About Christy:

I am a board certified family and emergency nurse practitioner who loves to dabble in all things health!I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach and share my knowledge with future nurse practitioners through my faculty position at UL Lafayette. My husband, who is a board certified emergency medicine physician, and I, also own a medical spa, Serenity MedAestehtics, in Youngsville. This gives us an opportunity to see the happier side of health and wellness. I have three wonderful children, two teenage boys, and one adorable and very spoiled toddler – also known as “the princess.” I love being able to share serious and not so serious health hacks with family, friends, and now, all of you!

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