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Pandemic aftermath still critical

Parents, grandparents and America as a whole understood early-on that this nation’s children — especially teenagers — would not emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic without potentially long-term negative impacts.

But many parents, grandparents and America as a whole did not comprehend how much other forces were wreaking havoc in the lives of young people, both before and during the pandemic — and, unfortunately, damage still is being done.

A lengthy special report in the September AARP Bulletin painted a deeply troubling picture of what already is here and what even might be worse, by the time the COVID-19 chapter of life in this country is closed for good — whenever that might be.

Fortunately, there are many services, groups and studies tuned in to what the Bulletin titled “Our kids in crisis: Social media, the pandemic and vast cultural changes have left a generation anxious and depressed.”

But more than being tuned in is vital — all considered — especially when the system designed to support them is being described as “in tatters.”

Some sobering information that is part of the AARP report:

• Last October, a survey published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in 10 high school students were admitting that they had tried to commit suicide in the previous 12 months.

• Suicide rates among adolescents had increased nearly 53% between 2010 and 2020.

• Jonathan Haidt, a professor of ethical leadership at New York University and one of several researchers who draw a direct line between social media and the increase in mood disorders in children and teens, said in written testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that “when you compare rates in 2009 — before most teens were daily users of social media — to 2019 — the last full year before COVID-19 made things even worse — the increases are generally between 50 percent and 150 percent.”

• The most recent National Mental Health Services Survey found that the number of residential treatment centers serving people under age 18 dropped by 30% between 2012 and 2020.

• Of the estimated 4.1 million adolescents who experienced an episode of major depression in 2020, 58.4% received no treatment.

• The Association for Behavioral Health reports that for every 10 mental health professionals entering the field each year, 13 leave.

• Only 8% of U.S. school districts staff enough school psychologists to meet the recommended guideline of one counselor for each 500 students.

• Young people with depressive symptoms described as moderate to severe are nearly twice as likely as those without depression to say they use social media “almost constantly.”

• Mass shootings: There are shootings at schools, theaters, events and other venues, and there are no places where young people all of the time can truly feel safe.

“Today, organizations from the CDC to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US. Surgeon General’s Office agree: ‘We’re in the throes of a mental health crisis for young people ages 10 and up,’ “ the AARP report says.

With a reported 95% of outpatient providers surveyed last year saying their waiting lists were growing longer, not shorter, and before that, psychiatric emergency room visits among children under 18 jumping by 60 percent between 2007 and 2016, what is referred to as a crisis is indeed tightening its grip.

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