Psychiatrists in North Carolina are sounding the alarm around the youth mental health crisis.
According to the CDC, an increasing number of people are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression nationwide, with the pandemic’s effects on mental health impacting young people the most.
“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade,” stated Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in an advisory addressed to the nation last year. “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the advisory notes that mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.
Between 2009 and 2019, high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students.
According to the Surgeon General’s advisory, the pandemic added to the pre-existing challenges that young people face, and disproportionately “impacted those who were vulnerable to begin with, such as youth with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ youth, low-income youth, youth in rural areas, youth in immigrant households, youth involved with the child welfare or juvenile justice systems, and homeless youth.”
In a report by WUNC, North Carolina Psychiatrists, including Dr. Gary Maslow, a child psychiatrist at Duke University, agree that the pandemic exacerbated the long-standing mental health crisis amongst the youth; with the lost of caregivers during the pandemic adding to the challenges.
“The kids who have developmental conditions like autism or an intellectual disability, when they were in school, had a whole matrix of support,” stated Maslow. “And the loss of that was profound.”
Currently, North Carolina ranks 21st in the country in adult mental health care, but 42nd in the country in youth mental health care, according to a nonprofit group Mental Health America.
Increasing access to care for youth across the state could be met through expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, yet state Republicans have stalled or outright opposed the critical healthcare measure.
Despite state Republican legislative leaders continuing to barely lift a finger to pass the measure, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrats, and advocates remain committed to fighting to ensure North Carolinians have access to health care, including mental health services.