Teen Depression Was Already a Problem; The Pandemic Could Be Making It Worse
The pandemic has affected everyone, but mental health experts warn that youth and teens are suffering disproportionately and that depression and suicide rates are increasing.
"While young people are generally physically healthy, they are psychiatrically vulnerable." Dr. Richard Friedman wrote in a New York Times opinion piece in January.
The psychiatrist warned even then that there was already an "epidemic of teen depression and suicide" that was largely being overlooked and under-supported. He cited evidence from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that, after declining for almost 20 years, the suicide rate among Americans aged 10 to 24 had jumped 56 percent between 2007 and 2017. Suicide has been, and is still, the second leading cause of death, after accidents, for that same age range, the CDC reported.
Shutdowns and other responses to the coronavirus pandemic since Friedman's article have exacerbated the already precarious situation of youth mental health and well-being.
A CDC survey on mental health in June found symptoms of anxiety and depression "up sharply," NPR reported. 11% of respondents said they had "seriously considered" suicide in the past 30 days; among 18 to 34-year-olds, that number more than doubled to 25%. The news report offered up uncertainty about the future and the state of the world, educational and daily routine disruptions, and isolation from peers and caring adults as potential factors.
Teenagers crave structure, Mendi Baron, founder of Ignite Treatment Centers, told KNPR's State of Nevada. Without it, their mood and mental health suffer, she said.
According to the CDC, many have experienced increased grief and loss due to the "drastic changes to daily routines and ways of life that usually bring us comfort and a feeling of stability." How adolescents experience and process this grief is similar and different than in children and adults, the center said.
"Adolescents may experience significant changes in their sleep patterns, isolate themselves more, frequently appear irritable or frustrated, withdraw from usual activities, or engage more frequently with technology," the CDC said. "It is important for parents or caregivers to engage with their adolescents over their grief to promote healthy coping and acceptance. Parents may also need to obtain mental health services for the adolescent and family to deal with grief."
Teens are also "hardwired to be social," Baron told the KNPR's State of Nevada. Caroline Edgeworth, a high school student and co-founder of Hope Means Nevada, told KNPR that school closures had "dramatically hurt" her and her friends because of lost time together and with their sports teams.
"It was kind of my escape from home and now I'm stuck at home," she said, reported KNPR.
Lisa Damour, an adolescent psychologist, agreed.
"Teenagers are in a developmental space where it is critically important that they have regular contact with their peers and are able to develop close and ongoing relationships with adults outside the home, such as their teachers, their coaches, their advisers," she told NPR. "And I worry very much about what it means for that to be disrupted by the pandemic."
Spending more time at home due to quarantine also increases another major factor in youth suicides: increased access to lethal weapons.
NPR reported that gun ownership in a particular state was the single strongest predictor of youth suicide rates in the state. A 2019 study found that for each 10 percent increase in household gun ownership, the suicide rate for 10- to 19-year-olds increases by more than 25 percent in that state, NPR reported.
Gun sales also doubled between March and June, the report stated, with 40% of the 10 million new guns sold during that time being to new gun owners. It's a "red flag" because firearms are used in over half of youth suicides, NPR reported.
Not having guns in the home or keeping them safely locked away is especially important with adolescents having to stay home due to the pandemic because "teens are impulsive," Damour told NPR.
These factors are causing some experts to push for schools to reopen, including CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield, reported ABC News. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and American Psychiatric Association (APA) generally support the CDC's push to reopen schools for the sake of children's mental and developmental health, but not where coronavirus is circulating, ABC reported.
"Whether we are sending students back for in-person school or not, we need to put emphasis on providing mental health support," child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Avanti Bergquist, elected school board member and distinguished fellow of AACAP, told ABC.
Parents, caregivers and teachers can keep these tips in mind to help kids and teens struggling during the pandemic:
- Educate parents and teachers to recognize depression in young people and learn the warning signs of suicide, like sudden behavior changes, talking or writing about suicide, and giving away prized possessions, Friedman wrote in the New York Times.
- Talk to kids. Check-in regularly. If a teen talks about hurting themselves or disappearing, ask directly, "Is that something you think you might really do or you think about doing? Or are you just letting me know that you're very upset right now?," Damour told NPR. Importantly, listen with compassion and without dismissing what they are saying.
- Listen. The Chicago Tribune reported on the importance of being heard. Ask students how they are doing, and listen with an open mind. The World Economic Forum stressed fostering relationships and creating an open-dialogue about wellness and feelings. "The stronger the connections are, the more opportunities they'll have to address something before it becomes untenable," said Nadjeh Awadallah, director of a Chicago INSPIRE program, reported the Tribune.
- Acknowledge grief and loss. The CDC suggested outlets to process and express grief such as music, art, writing, gardening and other creative activities.
- Look out for anger as an indicator. "In teenagers, uniquely, depression can take the form of irritability," Damour said, reported NPR. "That depression in teenagers sometimes looks like a prickly porcupine. Everybody rubs them the wrong way. And that is easy to miss because sometimes we'll just dismiss that as being a snarky teenager."
- Foster strong coping skills, also suggested the Tribune. Awadallah suggested meditation, conversation and other means of self-regulation and centering. Being reflective and able to calm yourself down is an important self-care component that everyone, including adults, should practice, Awadallah told the Tribune. For these pandemic times and beyond, there are online resources and even phone apps specifically catering to teens to boost their mindfulness and mental and emotional well-being.
- Develop new rituals to replace lost ones. The CDC suggested those that live together to play board games or exercise together outdoors. Those isolated can play virtual games together online.
- Encourage safe outlets. Look for safe sports, work or volunteer opportunities that allow teens to have social time and contact with other caring adults, Damour told NPR.
- Use tele-therapy. Damour noted that therapy over video chat has worked "surprisingly well" with adolescents, NPR reported.
Finally, "one of the most important things to know about grief is that there isn't a quick fix," licensed therapist Jody Baumstein told Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life. "The only way to truly deal with grief is to acknowledge it, feel it and work through it."
If you or someone you know is showing warning sides of suicide risk, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Crisis Text Line is available by texting TALK to 741741.
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<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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