Children’s mental health has been on the decline in recent years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children and adolescents who have experienced major depressive episodes in the past year increased from 8.5% in 2015 to 11.3% in 2020. Additionally, the suicide rate among children and adolescents increased by 56% between 2007 and 2018.
As a play therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the changing landscape of our children’s emotional and psychological well-being. Today, I want to discuss why children’s mental health is getting worse and what we, as parents and guardians, can do about it.
The Alarming Trends
Over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable decline in children’s mental health. Statistics from various health organizations show an increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders among children and adolescents. But what’s behind this disturbing trend?
Factors Contributing to the Decline
Several key factors play a role in the worsening mental health of our children:
Increased Screen Time and Digital Interaction
There are a number of factors that may be contributing to the decline in children’s mental health. One factor is the increased use of social media. Social media can be a great way for children to stay connected with friends and family, but it can also be a breeding ground for cyberbullying, social comparison, and fear of missing out (FOMO). Additionally, social media can expose children to harmful content, such as violence, pornography, and hate speech.
The digital age has brought about many positives, but the overuse of screens and social media can lead to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Children are spending less time engaging in face-to-face interactions and more time in virtual worlds where the pressure to fit in can be immense.
Academic Pressure and Stress
The competitive nature of education and the emphasis on academic success can be overwhelming for children. High stakes testing and the pressure to excel academically can lead to stress, burnout, and a fear of failure.
Social and Environmental Changes
Another factor that may be contributing to the decline in children’s mental health is the increase in school shootings and other mass violence events. These events can be traumatizing for children, even if they are not directly involved. They can also create a sense of anxiety and fear in children, making it difficult for them to feel safe and secure.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also had a significant impact on children’s mental health. The pandemic has led to disruptions in school, social isolation, and financial hardship for many families. These stressors can take a toll on children’s mental and emotional health.
From family dynamics to environmental stressors like climate change, children today are facing a world of uncertainty. Bullying, both in person and online, also takes a toll on mental health, as does exposure to violence or trauma.
Lack of Adequate Mental Health Resources
Despite the growing need, there’s still a significant lack of mental health resources available to children. This includes limited access to mental health professionals, long wait times for therapy, and a stigma that still surrounds mental health discussions.
The Role of Play Therapy
As a play therapist, I have seen firsthand the effects of the decline in children’s mental health. Many of the children I work with are struggling with anxiety, depression, and stress. They are also having difficulty regulating their emotions and coping with difficult situations.
Play therapy can be a beacon of hope amidst these challenges. It’s a therapeutic approach that allows children to express their feelings, experiences, and emotions through the universal language of play. This form of therapy can be especially effective for children who might not have the vocabulary to articulate their internal struggles.
What Can Parents Do?
As a parent, you are not powerless. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, there are a number of things you can do. First, talk to your child about how they are feeling. Let them know that it is okay to feel sad, angry, or scared. You can also help your child to develop coping skills for dealing with difficult emotions.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, it is also important to seek professional help. A play therapist can help your child to understand and process their emotions, develop coping skills, and build resilience.
Here are some additional tips for parents on how to support their children’s mental health:
- Be supportive and understanding. Let your child know that you are there for them and that you love them unconditionally.
- Help your child to develop healthy coping skills. This may include teaching them how to relax, take deep breaths, and express their emotions in a healthy way.
- Create a safe and supportive home environment. This means providing your child with a place where they feel loved and accepted.
- Set limits and boundaries. This will help your child to feel safe and secure.
- Set reasonable limits on screen time and encourage other activities that promote physical movement and personal interaction.
- Work with educators and school counselors to ensure your child’s academic pressure is manageable and seek accommodations if necessary.
- Talk to your child about mental health. Let them know that it is okay to ask for help if they are struggling.
Children’s mental health is a growing concern, but together, we can work towards solutions. By understanding the factors at play and taking proactive steps, we can help our children navigate these challenging times with resilience and strength. Contact us if you’re interested in support for your child.