Mental health is a leading cause of suicide for adults and kids. Teenagers have struggled with increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal behavior for much of the past decade. With the losses and disruptions of COVID-19, the onslaught of social media, and escalating gun violence, the youth mental health crisis has exploded.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared it a national emergency, and the U.S Surgeon General has issued a public health advisory calling for a comprehensive, coordinated response to the needs of young people.
Racial trauma, discrimination, hostility, and barriers to care have compounded the struggles for young people of color, especially Black children and LGBTQ+ youth.
Julie Kaplow, the executive vice president of trauma and grief programs and policy at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, describes the traumas people experience. Acute Traumas are rare incidents like car accidents, hurricanes, or school shootings. Chronic Trauma is trauma that happens over a long time, such as domestic violence cases, child abuse, poverty, and community violence. Low-income and Black, indiginous people of color (BIPOC) teens are more likely to face chronic trauma compared to their White counterparts or families with livable to high income.
“Two out of three kids experience trauma by 16. This leads to long-term consequences. Teenagers who have experienced chronic trauma tend to have smaller brain volume, are more at risk for depression, behavioral issues, and are at risk of suicide.” Kaplow said as she explained the effects of kids who do not receive the proper treatment in the earlier stages of trauma therapy.
Kaplow is the executive director of the Trauma and Grief Centers at The Hackett Center for Mental Health in Houston and the Children’s Hospital New Orleans and a professor of psychiatry at Tulane University School of Medicine.
She said bereavement trauma is the most frequently reported trauma for youth. Bereavement trauma is caused by losing somebody important in your life.
“Out of 10,000 students, the strongest predictor of poor school outcomes is the sudden loss of a family member,” Kaplow said. “Bereavement is above and beyond the most common trauma and the deadliest as it contributes a high rate to suicides in youth.”
Dr. Michael A. Lindsey also agrees that suicide is the biggest threat to the youth, and trauma plays a role in the high percentage of suicides.
“In 2019, the CDC did a youth risk behavior survey, and the data showed that suicides are the second leading cause of death to kids from age 10-19 in the USA,” he said. “There was an average of 3,703 attempted suicides per day from kids in the ninth to twelfth grade, and kids from 12-17 saw a 31% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits.” -Julie Kaplow
Lindsey is the Dean and Paulette Goddard Professor of Social Work at NYU Silver School of Social Work. He is a noted scholar in the fields of child and adolescent mental health, as well as a leader in the search for knowledge in and solutions to generational poverty and inequality.
Lindsey also lists financial instability and the social environment as trauma-related reasons for the uptick of suicide among youth. He states that Black teenagers who live in an area where police brutality happens, spend at least 160 days after the incident occurs in a state of mental distress.
He suggests that all schools have at least one mental health provider and that staffing ratio should be balanced to the number of students in the school.