The latest trends in youth substance use, mental health | Parentally Speaking

The latest trends in youth substance use, mental health | Parentally Speaking

An easy-to-remember three-digit number aims to transform the nation's approach to crisis care by providing mental healthcare emergency service.

Hate to tell you this, but the start of a new school year is just around the corner. That’s why I am sharing the following relevant findings with you, which have just been released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I shared similar information with you recently. But with the approaching school year, I wanted to take this platform to update and reiterate concerns that parents and caregivers have about their adolescents’ mental health and substance use issues.

The news is not too good. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation findings indicate that there has been a marked increase recently in light of gun violence and the COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent years, many adolescents have experienced worsened emotional health, increased stress and a lack of peer connection. Other mental health and substance use concerns are on the rise, including drug overdose deaths, self-harm and eating disorders. Simultaneously, adolescents are spending more time on screens and many report adverse experiences such as parental abuse, hunger and job loss, all of which can be linked to poor mental health outcomes.

So, as a parent or caregiver, you should know that there are several measures that have been taken or proposed to address worsening mental health and barriers to care.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has put forth draft recommendations to screen adolescents ages 12 to 18 for major depressive disorder and children ages 8 to 18 for anxiety. Additionally, many state Medicaid programs plan to implement new crisis services and have already expanded coverage of telemedicine services for mental health and substance use care. Last month, 988 − a federally mandated crisis number was launched. This crisis number provides a single three-digit number for individuals in need to access local and state funded crisis centers.

The government released a strategy to address the national mental health crisis in May 2022, building on prior actions. There have also been bills introduced in Congress that would designate funding toward the integration of behavioral health care into pediatric primary care, youth suicide prevention, and support for individuals with eating disorders. A separate bipartisan bill supporting mental health and suicide prevention services in schools was also introduced. And, in response to gun violence, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was signed into law and allocates funds toward mental health, including trauma care for school children.

A large share of the American public report that increasing government funding for access to mental health services and training for mental health providers should be a top priority for Congress, though several other health care issues rank higher.

Obviously, despite efforts noted above, challenges remain in addressing worsening adolescent mental health and access to care issues.

Mental health and substance use issues among adolescents have increased over time and remain more pronounced among several subgroups. Some states have recently considered policies that would limit LGBTQ+ youth access to gender affirming care, which, if enacted, may further contribute to poor mental health among this population.

Additionally, gun violence and active shooter drills in schools may further contribute to poor mental health outcomes among youth. If left untreated, mental health conditions that develop during adolescence can persist into adulthood and limit quality of life. Looking ahead, data on vulnerable populations will be pivotal in further understanding how to address and mitigate rising mental health and substance use concerns.

Ezra Helfand is CEO/Executive Director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention. You can reach him at ezra.helfand@wellspringprevention.org.