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Consider the world from the point of view of a child born in 2006.
Facebook opened to the general public that year. The iPhone arrived the next year, followed by Instagram in 2010 and TikTok in 2016. COVID-19 took hold of the world when they were 13 or 14. The rapid spread of digital technology and a global health crisis created a fraught time for Generation Z — individuals born between 1997 and 2012.
On top of this, today’s young people are chronically sleep-deprived. They feel immense pressure to succeed. And they’re facing complicated societal issues, such as racial inequities, climate change and violence.
Also on the Forum Network: World Mental Health Day: Bridging the student mental health gap and unlocking the potential of the world’s youth by Kadri Tuisk, Founder and CEO, Clanbeat
The need for mental health support in youth has doubled over the years, and cracks are emerging in national health systems. How might fewer youths reach critical mental health states and reach their full potential?
Parents and caregivers have always eyed how their children are moving through the world and marvelled at the changes that have taken place since “back when we were kids.” As the president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a U.S. philanthropy focused on the well-being of young people, and as a mother myself, I am immersed in this dynamic. But it is unlikely that any of us have seen such a rapid evolution of technologies and lifestyles with such potential to wreak havoc on the mental health of the world’s young people. Consider:
- Anxiety and depression shot up during the pandemic among youth and young adults in OECD countries from the U.S. and Canada to Belgium and Italy with a corresponding increase in demand for mental health services.
- In the United States, 10% of high schoolers attempted suicide in 2021, with higher figures among American Indian or Alaska Native (16%), Black (14%), multiracial (12%) and gay, lesbian or bisexual (22%) children.
I am particularly alarmed by the latest data on the mental health of girls, whom researchers in the United States describe as “engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma.” Close to 1 in 3 high school girls said they considered suicide in 2021, nearly a 60% increase from a decade earlier. The share of girls who attempted it was nearly double the share of boys. Some 57% of girls experienced persistent sadness or hopelessness.
In his 2021 advisory, the U.S. surgeon general sounded the alarm on youth mental health, underscoring that it is just as important as physical health to overall well-being. To address the issue, the Casey Foundation hosted a youth mental health summit in April in Atlanta, Georgia, acknowledging the importance of young people themselves having a voice in policies affecting them. We also called attention to these alarming trends in the most recent KIDS COUNT Data Book, our signature annual publication on child well-being.
Lisa Hamilton joined dozens of young leaders to discuss youth mental health at the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s recent summit in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Caselove, LLC
Mental health is linked to every other thing the Casey Foundation wants for young people, as well as what they want for themselves: a good education, a job, friends and, ultimately, space to be happy and to dream. It is time for leaders to take action.
Just 20% of U.S. children with a mental health disorder actually receive care, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Meeting the basic needs of young people is a must. Without adequate food, stable housing and safe neighbourhoods, children’s day-to-day experiences lack a firm foundation. Child poverty is greater than 10% in two dozen OECD countries.
We must also ensure young people can access mental health services, when and where they need them, including in schools. Just 20% of U.S. children with a mental health disorder actually receive care, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Population disparities cannot be ignored. According to the World Health Organization, teens around the world can face greater risks and discrimination based on chronic illness, neurological conditions, pregnancy and other factors in addition to race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. In the United States, this manifests everywhere from the therapist’s office, where 81% of U.S. psychologists are white despite about half of the nation’s children identifying as nonwhite, to family and community settings, where youth may face stigmas when they seek mental health support.
And the outsized role of social media in the life of teenagers warrants continued examination. According to a Wall Street Journal report, a third of teen girls said self-image issues were made worse by Instagram; 13% of users in the United Kingdom with suicidal thoughts attributed them to that platform. Greater social media use is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression, worse sleep, body image issues and eating disorders in young people, but more research is needed.
Together, we can build new systems and services that prioritise young people’s mental health and well-being. We have to get this right, because it truly matters — to all of the communities that need the talents of the next generation, to all of the parents who want to help their children and to every single young person seeking support, peace and hope.
To learn more, visit the OECD page on Mental Health
Mental ill-health can have devastating effects on individuals, families and communities, with one in every two people experiencing a mental illness in their lifetime. During the COVID-19 crisis many people’s mental health worsened; at the worst points in the crisis prevalence of depression and anxiety increased significantly, and even doubled in some countries.
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