This Saturday, July 16, marks the launch of the 988, the new National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The hotline will help those experiencing a mental health crisis of any kind, replacing the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (SAMHSA). The creation of the three-digit number makes the hotline more readily accessible and is being praised as a necessary step toward addressing the mental health crisis in the U.S. (Washington Post). With the anticipated release of the new hotline, many have turned their attention to the current state of youth mental health.
Mental illness affects millions in the U.S. with social, physical, and financial consequences (National Alliance of Mental Illness). Despite care and treatment having been historically mismanaged in this country, programs and initiatives to help raise awareness and educate the public about mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have helped remove the stigma and help people find support (Lifespan).
• Use this youth-created guide to find out how to connect to remote youth mental health services.
Open and honest dialogue is vital for ending the stigma around mental health issues; however, mental illness continues to persist, with teens and young adults significantly impacted (NAMI). Fifty percent of all lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14 and 75% by age 24. And despite suicide being the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s second amongst people ages 10-34.
While social media and screen time have often been blamed for the youth mental health crisis, research suggests it’s more complex. Teenagers are exercising and sleeping less and having fewer real-time interactions, which are all essential to their development and identity (New York Times).
The current COVID-19 pandemic, the reversal and restriction of rights, the climate crisis, police brutality, and gun violence also affect young adults. Sixty-five percent of LGBTQ+ youth said topics like anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, police brutality, gun violence, climate change, and efforts to restrict abortion access often give them stress and anxiety (Trevor Project).
In 2021, more than a third of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic (CDC). More than 10.4 million children globally, and over 214,000 in the U.S, have lost a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19 (National Geographic), putting them at greater risk of poverty and violence if placed in foster care. And with persistent gun violence and mass shootings, 57% of teens say they’re worried about a shooting at their school (Pew Research).
The erosion of protection, rights, and support is disproportionately felt. Two-thirds of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019 because of mistreatment and stigma (CDC). Nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year, and LGBTQ+ youth of color across all racial and ethnic groups reported higher rates than their white peers. (Trevor Project).
As lawmakers target gender-affirming healthcare, block trans athletes, and pass hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills (The ARD), 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth say anti-trans bills and debates have affected their mental health (Trevor Project).
Along with Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill that prohibits discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grade levels or a specified manner (NPR), hateful legislation and rhetoric normalize erasure, violence, and harm against LGBTQ+ youth and adults.
“Recent political attacks aimed at transgender and nonbinary youth have not only threatened their access to health care, support systems, and affirming spaces at school,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, research scientist for the Trevor Project said, “they’ve also negatively impacted their mental health.”
The only solution to the youth mental health crisis is ensuring a more equitable future without discriminatory exclusion, erasure, inequitable access to healthcare and material resources, and political and climate catastrophe. In the short term, creating a sense of belonging and “connectedness” at home, in school, in groups and organizations, and from influential people in one’s life are crucial “protective factors” for all young people that can ease mental health issues (CDC). What will it take, and who else must lose their life for our society to ensure that young people get to enjoy being young?