TW Viewpoint | The Mental Health Crisis of Our YouthAugust 5, 2022 | Javid Khan
Salvador Ramos, an 18-year-old in Uvalde Texas, entered Robb Elementary school on May 24, 2022 and opened fire killing at least 19 children – children averaging 10 years of age and two teachers. Large scale acts of violence, similar to the Uvalde incident, perpetrated by youth suffering from mental health issues such as Ramos have been occurring more frequently. In fact, the mental health of teenagers in general has been deteriorating in recent decades—a phenomena that has only accelerated with the recent pandemic. What's happening to our children? And what can we do to help?
It is unfortunate to point out that the massacre of children in Texas was not the first of its kind. In April 1999, two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire at Columbine High School in Colorado killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 before killing themselves. Fast forward to March 2005 when Jeff Weise, a 16-year-old student killed his grandfather and his companion, before going to the Red Lake High School in Minnesota where he killed 5 students, a teacher, a security guard and then himself. In December 2012, Adam Lanza, a 19-year-old, killed his mother at home before going to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut to kill 20 first graders, six teachers and himself. While there are numerous other incidents we can recall, the common factor in all these incidents is quite obvious. The attackers are clearly mentally unstable.
The shocking truth is, we are facing a mental health crisis of our young children and teenagers today. While I admit, these violent attacks are on the more extreme end of the spectrum, the vast majority of youth facing mental health concerns will likely never commit such atrocities. However, there is a clear trend, and given enough time as the steep decline in teen mental health persists, the frequency of these events are likely to increase. According to the New York Times:
"In 2019, 13 percent of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode, a 60 percent increase from 2007. Emergency room visits by children and adolescents in that period also rose sharply for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm. And for people ages 10 to 24, suicide rates, stable from 2000 to 2007, leaped nearly 60 percent by 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." ('It's Life or Death': The Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Teens, nytimes.com)
As a father of three young children, the oldest being only four years of age, I feel the pain of those who have lost their child in any of these attacks. I am also fearful of what my children will be exposed to in the coming years. But how do I help my child to navigate through what seems like a very difficult road ahead? How can you help your child to overcome the current mental health crisis? While actions such as certain gun control measures and emergency drills in schools to prepare for such an event can be helpful, they are only small bandages on a very large wound. The root cause will still be present. As the old adage states, prevention is better than cure.
I take responsibility for the actions of my child, as their actions should be a reflection of what I've instilled in them or what I've groomed them to become, whether directly or indirectly. We as parents have the responsibility and the opportunity to curve the mental health crisis and the subsequent violent acts that may result from it.
In a recent article titled 'The mental health crisis among children and teens: How parents can help' Claire McCarthy, Senior Faculty Editor for Harvard Health Publishing noted a few points.
1. Create rituals of communication and safe spaces to talk
"Whether it's family dinner, family game night, talking on the ride to school, or a nightly check-in before bed, having regular times to ask open-ended questions and to listen to your children is important." (The Mental Health Crisis Among Children And Teens: How Parents Can Help, www.health.harvard.edu)
2. Make sure your child has downtime
While as a parent, I enjoy putting my children in activities to foster growth, it is important not to have them overscheduled. We need to ensure they have enough time to relax and enjoy things for themselves. Too much at a young age can increase anxiety and be more stressful for a younger person.
3. Encourage healthy media habits
Social media is something children will inevitably get in involved with, whether we like it or not. While there are benefits, there are also severe downfalls to social media or any online media. Teaching and encouraging your child to navigate the complex world of social media will benefit them in the long run.
4. Keep in touch with the adult-figures in your children's life
Let's face it, our children will not tell us everything, but maybe they feel comfortable expressing themselves to someone else who can play a supportive role in their development and growth as an individual. Having a good relationship with these individuals can help us as parents know and support our child better.
Let us not continue the downward spiral of molding our children into a mentally unstable mess only for us to reap the negative consequences in the coming years. Let us not wait until it is too late, as these simple pointers can start from an early age. Your child's future and mental state depend on it.