The Mental Health Crisis Is Getting Younger

Mental health issues in young people are on the rise. Research published by the American Psychological Association in 2019 showed rates of mood disorders and suicide-related outcomes had increased significantly over the last decade among adolescents and young adults. Several factors could explain this, but different cultural trends seem to play a significant role in the rising mental health crisis impacting today’s youth. 

The increase, according to research, could be due to the increased usage of electronic communication and social media. Texting, messaging, and communicating via social media platforms have dramatically changed the way people socially interact with each other. This change may have affected mood disorders and has also affected young people’s sleep patterns as much as they did in previous generations where this technology was not available. 

 

COVID exacerbated the mental health crisis

Mental health conditions in children have been on the rise for years but have spiked during the last year and a half. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone to some degree. Still, for those with existing mental health issues, it has only exacerbated the problems.  Young people seem to have been especially affected, with some mental health conditions emerging at higher rates than others. Experts have seen a rise in depression,  self-harm, and eating disorders, specifically. 

A study published in November 2020 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that between April and October of 2020, there was a 24 percent increase in mental health-related emergency room visits for children between the ages of 5 and 11 compared with the same period in 2019. 

Even before the pandemic, the mental health crisis was exploding, with bullying, racism, abuse, and other environmental factors contributing to the growing cases of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders among children and adolescents. In addition, there is evidence that social media may be a contributing factor. 

According to the Pew Research Center,  81% of teens in the United States use social media. Although social media can be beneficial if used in a healthy manner, young people who develop unhealthy social media habits can experience adverse outcomes such as depression, anxiety, and hyperactivity. 

Social media algorithms play a role in how social media affects younger people. For example, if they watch a video of something that makes them anxious- the platform will continue to put similar content in front of them, even if they only viewed it once.

There is also the fear of missing out (FOMO) and cyberbullying issues to contend with. 

 

A solution for mental health

In the mental health crisis in young people there are limited resources for young children. There is a severe shortage of pediatric mental health specialists, including child psychiatrists in many areas. Also, many inpatient psychiatric treatment centers do not accept pediatric patients, and those that do are often backlogged, with waits up to a week for an available bed. 

Until recently, children under 12 were considered low-risk when it came to mental health issues, and it was not standard practice to screen them for problems during well-child visits. 

Virtual reality can be an effective solution in treating and even screening younger patients. It has been found that VR can transform the assessment, understanding, and treatment of mental health issues. VR environments can also be used for training and testing in pediatric emergency medicine, potentially giving clinicians the tools they need to effectively treat children admitted to the ER for mental health conditions.

Amelia Virtual Care offers VR environments to help evaluate and manage many of the common mental health conditions that affect young people, such as depression, eating disorders, bullying, anxiety, among others. VR can be a valuable tool for patients with eating disorders to confront their body image distortions. For those with anxiety disorders, the VR environments are designed to elicit reactions to help them learn how to manage their symptoms.

If you are a clinician who treats young children and adolescents and are interested in learning more about VR, contact us for a free demo!

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