We have a major mental health crisis coming our way and we are not prepared. Before the Coronavirus pandemic one out of five teenagers met the criteria for a mental health diagnosis and needed psychotherapy (CDC). In addition depression, anxiety and cutting were at epidemic rates for teenagers (CDC). To make matters worse, suicide had been the third leading cause of death for teenagers prior to the pandemic and has been moved from the third to the second leading cause of death for teenagers (CDC). Additionally, African-American teenagers were committing suicide at five times the rate of Caucasian teenagers (CDC). This means prior to the pandemic, we had many teenagers dying due to suicide and the rate has been increasing every year for the past ten years (CDC). In 2018 over 6200 teenagers between 10-18 committed suicide (CDC). If the number of teenagers committing suicide is increasing every year significantly, then how many teenagers committed suicide last year? How many teenagers will attempt or commit suicide this year?
Here are the statistics for teenage mental health prior to the pandemic. We know since the pandemic the number of teenagers reporting depression and anxiety have significantly increased and so have the number of teenage suicides and death due to drug overdoses have increased since the pandemic. I have seen a significant increase in patients calling my office for psychotherapy for their teenagers and children. How are we going to provide all these children and teenagers with psychotherapy? Additionally, many parents are having to stop their child’s psychotherapy because they can no longer afford the copayments. Many parents have lost their jobs or have had their hours cut which reduces their monthly income. Therefore, many parents are having to choose between paying rent and buying food or their child’s therapy. I am willing to make accommodations so the children and teenagers I treat can stay in therapy, however many therapists will not make accommodations. So what happens to all these children who need therapy because the pandemic has exacerbated their mental health issues? Why should parents have to decide between food on the table or therapy for their depressed teenager?
Another fact we cannot overlook is that this week we reached the point where 200,000 Americans have died due to the Coronavirus. This means there are 200,000 families who are grieving. Many children have lost parents and grandparents. Many parents have lost their parents and have lost their child too. The Coronavirus does and has killed children. How do we provide grief counseling to all of the grieving families and friends? With a record number of people out of work order besides finding therapists to help all these family members, how do you provide therapy at an affordable price? If you have a family of four that needs therapy, the monthly cost for therapy will be very expensive. Again people are having to choose between food for the family or therapy for the family.
Another factor impacting the mental health of children and parents is school. Because the President refuses to issue a national mandate regarding masks, children and teenagers are having to attend school remotely. Fourth percent of the parents in our Country have had to adjust their work schedules so there is someone at home to help the children. This has resulted in many parents having to reduce their pay. Again making it difficult to pay the rent and afford food. Additionally, many children and teenagers are becoming very frustrated because the remote learning is not well coordinated and they want to give up on school. This is adding more stress to families who are already over stressed. They are needing psychotherapy to help them, but they cannot afford therapy. Again what are we going to do to help these families?
One final point for this article, we hear that people have and do recover after being diagnosed with the Coronavirus. This is true, however, we have now learned something new about this new virus. A number of people who recover go on to develop what is being to referred to as “long haul syndrome.” People who develop this syndrome have heart palpitations, neurological problems, losing their hair and a condition referred to a brain fog. At this point no one knows how long it will last and who will develop it. It also is creating mental health issues such as depression. These people and their families will require therapy too. Again, how do we provide affordable therapy to these people? Since there is a negative stigma about mental health, we do not have enough therapists in the United States to treat all these people. Right now of course we are looking for a cure to the virus but we have not been paying attention to the collateral damage this virus has caused and how are we going to cope with it. Mental health is a major area, but we have not been paying attention to the mental health issues created by this virus and how are we going to address the mental health needs of the United States.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 20 years experience treating children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.