Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more anxious kids in my pediatric practice. I recently saw a 15-year-old patient who had been experiencing “shaking” episodes. Initially, I was worried that it could be seizures, but after a thorough evaluation and a deep conversation, it was apparent that she was having anxiety attacks. She was a very stressed 10th grader who had too much on her plate.
She’s not the only one who is experiencing anxiety. Our nation’s statistics are showing that anxiety is on the rise in young people, as is depression, and on an even bleaker note, suicide. In fact, suicide rates are up by 30% in age 10-17 over the last 10 years, according to several recent studies.
What is going on? What has contributed to this startling trend of our kids having more emotional and mental health issues?
It may be a number of factors. Our kids seem to be caught in a perfect storm of hectic scheduling of sports and activities, ramped up academics, and college pressure. And then there is social media, which seems to take up all the space that may be left in the day. And social media is not without consequence - although there is no hard evidence that it causes mental illness, the constant need and addiction to getting "likes" can impact self-esteem, as can other social media pitfalls like cyberbullying. Additionally, our constant ”go” mode means that there is no time to unwind or just talk to supportive adults or friends. These factors together can lead to anxiety and depression.
This is why I feel very strongly that the state of Oregon has moved in the right direction by allowing mental health days. Being able to take the day off to focus on mental health issues could make a huge difference to a young person who is feeling overwhelmed or who has a diagnosis and needs to get professional help. It could make a difference to that young lady whose arms and hands were shaking because she was so stressed, and it could help the teen who has suicidal thoughts by allowing them time to get support.
Our kids today face so many pressures. Parents, communities, and schools need to come together to make sure that we’re there for them, supporting them when they stumble and giving them the tools they need to build a solid foundation for the future.