Everyone has been touched in some way by the scourge that the COVID-19 pandemic brought into our lives. Some may have been touched by the death of a loved one, become ill, lost work or lost a job, missed attending special occasions or funerals, missed social interactions with family and friends, and some suffered from depression.
Many relationships became strained. Many people got divorced. I am one of those statistics. Children in school suffered, not only academically, but socially, and in the process lost pivotal stages of development. However, one of the groups most negatively affected were, and still are, our teenagers. Our teens got a mega hit, losing school, social interactions, and events that really only come once in a lifetime.
Students who have dreamt of graduating and hearing pomp and circumstance felt robbed. Left with only their technology to turn to, their devices became, for some, a means for cruelty and for others desperation. More deadly grew the darkness of depression, violence, murder and suicide. Welcome to the other pandemic.
According to a study recently released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention addressing youth risk behaviors, the statistics are chilling. The stats for the study come from those collected across the United States since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. It is devastating to learn that nearly one of every three high school girls reported in 2021 that they had seriously considered suicide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers aged 13-19. Violence is now a significant public health issue among our youth. In non-Hispanic black youth 13-19, homicide is the leading cause of death. In Hispanic males 13-19, homicide is the second leading cause of death. It is shocking that 11 percent of all homicides in the United States take the lives of 13–19-year-olds. Of these, 93 percent were killed by a firearm. In the past it was war that took the lives of so many of our fine young people. Now, many never live to see adulthood.
In Kate Woodsom’s article in the Washington Post, Feb. 15, opinion page, titled ” Americans Teens are Unwell because American Society is Unwell”, she remarks, “Kids today are unwell. Worse than ever before according to two new studies tracing depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in teens. There is now a frantic search for ways to stop kids from hurting. But if we want to make any lasting difference, it is us, the adults, who need an intervention.” Why?
The systems and social media that are making our children sad, angry and afraid today were shaped in part by adults who grew up sad, angry and afraid themselves.
Teenage girls are reporting the highest ever levels of sexual violence, sadness and hopelessness. The CDC states that schools can make a profound difference by: “Increasing the sense among all students that they are cared for, supported, and belong in school.” It was also stressed that a growing need for access to mental health and substance abuse services for kids and their families is crucial. We need to appreciate that the schools’ four walls cannot hold back the trauma of society. Sometimes that is a personal nightmare that may await them at home.
Consider this, one in five adults, nearly 53 million, had a mental illness in 2020, ranging from anxiety to depression to bipolar disorders. Nearly 28 million adults today have an alcoholic disorder. There is some hope. Brains wired by toxic stress such as the sexual violence that one in 10 girls are experiencing, have the ability to reboot when exposed to positive experiences. Some of the things that can help run the rampant from good nutrition (remember, you are what you eat), mindfulness practices, getting adequate sleep and limited screen times. Here is where parents can really step up to the plate. We can say no. We who giveth can also taketh away. Fresh air is good for us all, especially our youth.
A pre-pandemic study out of Iowa raises alarm about bullying and suicide. This for me is a very personal issue. Duke University researchers found some clear correlation between feeling sad and hopeless and suicide. In addition, the CDC findings show that people who are frequently bullied or who bully others, are more likely to think about, attempt or commit suicide.
True to my policy, over the past 32 years, when I have a personal story that helps bring to life an issue, I tell it. An old axiom advises writers to write about what they know, and I do.
Back in the early sixties there was no internet and there were no cell phones that could multiply cruelty and shaming by a quick click. Bullying then was more in your face. More personal. But it shudders me to think of the power that a bully can have today.
I had come out from Michigan after a horrible trial dealing with molestation at home. I had hoped to flee the drama and public showing of my pain. When I was admitted to a junior high school in southern California, a person in the school office somehow heard of my issues, which had evidently been brought to the school’s attention so they would be aware, to look for any issues I might face. This person shared the information with their child who also attended the school. It began with just whispers, and snickering, but quickly became a campaign of ridicule and bullying.
In my still tender state, this attack, and it did seem to me like an attack, was devastating. I had to face my worst fears, the horror that had followed me across the country. My sadness and depression grew into enormous proportions and I could honestly not imagine a way past the pain. I attempted suicide, and I nearly succeeded. I changed schools and life slowly went on. I promised myself if I ever heard anyone bully someone else, I would stand up for them. And I did.
But how could I confront this new form of bullying? I shudder to think. We need to do all we can to educate people, both adults and our youth, of the dangerous harm that can be caused by such behaviors. These facts may be hard to accept, no one wants to think that these statistics are real. But knowledge is power. and if we all work together to find solutions, maybe our children will be able to enjoy their youth while they can.