Teenage mental health crisis demands much more attention – The Bradenton Times | Team Cansler

By almost any available metric, America is being forced to confront a terrifying reality: Our adolescents and young adults are in dire straits. If our society does not muster the will to meet such an emergency with adequate resources, it will surely have a tremendous impact on our nation for generations to come.

Data presented to a state commission this week showed a staggering 4,844 Florida students were removed from campus last school year for involuntary psychiatric evaluations under the Baker Act. This is just another metric loudly telling our society that our youth are struggling mightily to come to terms with the realities of modern life.
It may be decades before the role that hyper-isolation has played from COVID lockdowns and online learning is fully understood, but the fact that teenage suicides have skyrocketed in 2021 after two years of steady decline, while similar spikes were seen in depression and anxiety, strongly suggests what most of us would probably assume. A massive reduction in personal socialization and peer-to-peer support at crucial stages of development were at least the contributing factors.
However, pre-COVID data suggests that the pandemic has only accelerated existing trends. In 2019, the CDC reported that the teen suicide rate had increased by 56 percent in less than a decade. As a result, suicide became the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24. It is almost impossible to consider these numbers and not immediately look at the massive ways in which smartphones and social media platforms have completely transformed the everyday life of this demographic in the same period.
Renowned social psychologist Jonathon Haidt has sounded the alarm about these troubling trends and some apparently correlated data. In his 2018 book with Greg Lukianoff, The Indulgence of the American Spirit: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Fail a GenerationThe authors examine a number of other ways that cultural shifts in child rearing and raising children, with the best of intentions, have resulted in a generation of Americans being raised to be far less resilient than their predecessors (the essay accompanying the book has been expanded, it may be Read here).

For example, Americans, on average, began having fewer children later in life, when they typically had higher education and more life experience. This, compounded by more forms of media and content that constantly play on our negative news bias by overemphasizing threats to child safety (despite data showing our society is becoming increasingly safer for children), has resulted in young Americans routinely received less and less freedom and independence in which to learn important life skills that create resilience.

With more time to spend with one or two children instead of three or four, and at the same time with more competitive academic and economic prospects, parents became increasingly involved in cultivating a strategic childhood focused on adult success. As the authors point out, this also had the effect of virtually eliminating free play opportunities in which children learn to navigate the world they will one day have to traverse alone, which in turn strengthened their resilience through the repeated experience of chafing Knees – whether literally or figuratively.

Haidt also has much to say about the impact of social media on our culture in general, although he has been particularly interested in causal links between the rise of Instagram and the concomitant rise in reported anxiety and depression among adolescent women, who are far less likely to do so are more likely to commit suicide than their male counterparts, but are increasingly committing other acts of self-harm.

I don’t know many Americans who wouldn’t agree that in the age of constant high-speed access, social media has had a profoundly negative impact on society at large, and on our children and young adults in particular. Even so, we have failed to engage in a broader societal discussion about what this reality means for our nation’s future, let alone how we might jump off the fast-moving train that will carry us into a very unattractive future.

Instead, when it comes to our youth, the vast majority of our energy is expended on the never-ending Kulturkampf on the fringes. Our so-called leadership feigns deep concern about books that might be sitting on the dusty shelves of a middle school library or whether a teacher or textbook is too ideological (unless it is her ideology of course). We argue more about gender and bathrooms or prayer in school than about the much more substantive issues that pose a real and immediate threat to a much wider student body. Unfortunately, our deeply divided government seems unable to treat every issue, regardless of its severity, as more than an opportunity to attack the other side and gain political points.

Government aside, there also appears to be little appetite for training an appropriate level of resources for the crisis. As in most affairs in our unique for-profit health care system, the bulk of financial investment has been directed toward providing our children with medicines, often medicines that have not proven effective, to make anything other than money for the powerful manufacturing corporations and market them.

Whether we rise to the challenge or not, there will come a day in the not too distant future when this crisis-ridden generation will inherit the institutions of American society. Should they not rise to the challenge, we – until then, the elderly and infirm who will be exposed to the results – will not blame anyone but ourselves for their failure.




Dennis “Mitch” Maley is an editor and columnist for The Bradenton Times and host of our weekly podcast. With over two decades of journalistic experience, he has covered the Manatee County government since 2010. A graduate of Shippensburg University, he later served as a Captain in the US Army. click here for his biography. His 2016 collection of short stories, Casting Shadows, has recently been reissued and is available here.

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