By Anushka Rajmohan
As the famous psychologist, Carl Jung once said, “About a third of my cases are suffering from no clinically definable neurosis, but from the senselessness and emptiness of their lives. This can be defined as the general neurosis of our times.” Although in the world we live today, psychological experts are able to diagnose most who suffer from this “neurosis” with known and studied mental disorders, Jung’s other statement still stands as a constant: mental health has been declining and continues to do so, especially among teenagers. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened mental health, this mental health crisis has been on-going for decades now.
Before the 1900s, mental health was not a big societal concern, and those with mental health disorders were mostly considered “crazy” and were stigmatized. However, as psychology began to grow as a prominent field of study and psychologists began to understand more about the effects of previously thought to be milder mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, the issue of a widespread decline in mental health in teenagers became much clearer.
As this noticeably became a public health concern, the Department of Human and Health Services (HHS) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started to analyze data from the 1900s to the 1980s to find possible trends and causes to this crisis. They noticed that the suicide rates among teenagers were steadily increasing from 1900-1950 and then sharply increased starting around the 1980s, exceeding the rate of suicide for all peoples.
This mental health decline has only been intensifying, with psychological disorders among children and teenagers rapidly increasing since the mid-2000s. As of now, in the United States, the second leading cause of death for young adolescents, teenagers, and young adults is death by suicide. This fact is even more alarming when compared with the results of the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, which revealed that suicidal thoughts have been the most prevalent among young adults, specifically ages 18-25.
Researchers and psychologists have been conducting hundreds of studies in order to pinpoint the cause of this public health crisis. Although most studies have not been able to find a conclusive single cause and contribute to the decline of mental health for various reasons, those studies also mainly point to the rise of social media and the excessive use of technology for this mental health decline.
Studies have found that the use of smartphones and laptops leads to less amount of sleep, both because teenagers are spending too much time on these addictive devices and the blue light from screens that disrupt sleep patterns. Moreover, the omniscient presence in teenagers’ lives lessens face-to-face interactions with family and friends. Both of these factors have shown to increase already present stress from other factors and contribute to mental disorders such as depression and bipolar (also known as manic-depressive) disorder, which are the two leading disorders contributing to suicide among teens.
On top of these pre-existing issues, the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in the world implementing various lockdowns has not been kind to the teenage population either. A research study conducted about the effects of the lockdown explained the plunge of mental health among school and college-going students and emphasized the factors that led to this:
“The home confinement of children and adolescents is associated with uncertainty and anxiety which is attributable to disruption in their education, physical activities and opportunities for socialization. Absence of structured setting of the school for a long duration result in disruption in routine, boredom and lack of innovative ideas for engaging in various academic and extracurricular activities.”
The pandemic only increased the stress that teenagers already had and disrupted a regular routine that, the study predicts, will have psychological effects later on in their lives as well.
A student from North, who would like to remain anonymous, was asked about their own experiences with their mental health struggles over the spring/summer lockdown of 2020. The student claimed that the lockdown had a negative impact on their mental health, mostly due to a decrease in daily face-to-face social interactions with friends. The student commented on this reduced social life:
“Not seeing people in general or going out was incredibly tough for me because there was nothing to look forward to.”
The student also both proceeded to explain that this decline in mental health negatively impacted their school worth ethic in general. The student explained that “school life slowly went into downward spiral.”
Although the terrific death rate of this pandemic is still important to concentrate on, the decline of mental health and increase in stress also deserves attention since this even impacts our own school.
So, what is being done about this serious public health crisis plaguing kids and adults alike? Many organizations have been created to help and spread awareness of this growing issue. One such organization is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). AFSP shares real stories of suicide survivors provides a crisis lifeline and raises money in order to educate and push for suicide prevention programs in schools. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is another organization that aims to raise awareness for the suicide pandemic and is also the biggest suicide crisis call center in the United States, providing support for anyone in distress.
Schools and colleges are also implementing suicide prevention programs and mental health programs that aim to detect early signs of suicide and help students suffering from serious psychological disorders and self-harm. Our own state has the Safe2Something program, its main objective being to help those who might be in a crisis by recognizing certain signs. Our school also has the CARES program, which is also designed so that students can recognize warning signs from their peers and help them by reporting to trusted adults.
The topic of mental health has been one that holds much stigma and still, to some extent, is an uncomfortable topic to discuss today. However, spreading awareness about this pandemic and effects of this on teenagers is important in decreasing the rates of psychological illnesses and rates of suicide, both of which have been on the rise for decades now. The only way to prevent more casualties that these mental health diseases cause is to be educated on the topic of mental health, spread awareness, and join and support organizations advocating for suicide prevention. And even if you are not able to do these things, even having a bit more awareness for the people around you can save a life.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please contact any of the hotlines below:
National Hopeline Network: 1-800-784-2433
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR