Youth Mental Health is a Crisis

Peace Advocate January 2022

Adolescent Mental Health

by Susan Mirsky, David Mirsky, and Liz Walters

How has the pandemic affected adolescent mental health, and what resources do adolescents have and lack during this time? On December 16th, 2021, Mass. Peace Action’s Fund Healthcare Not Warfare Campaign held its first in a series of webinars devoted to Children’s Mental Health In The Era Of Covid. This first webinar was focused on adolescent mental health, including gender and sexuality-based issues faced by youths in middle and high school. 

The presenters were David Mirsky, MD, a community mental health psychiatrist; Dev Kaplan and Princess, of Youth MOVE Massachusetts; Keygan Miller, of the Trevor Project; and State Senator Julian Cyr. Both program presenters and participants expressed their stories, needs, frustrations and hopes. Each speaker gave a unique perspective on how the pandemic has affected adolescent mental health, and what resources adolescents have and lack during this time. 

Speakers from Youth MOVE Massachusetts discussed how the pandemic had personally affected them and their mental health as adolescents. Particularly, isolation has made many young people feel depressed and alone, and switching to remote learning may mean that resources like mental health and guidance counselors are inaccessible. 

Keygan of the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ+ young people, spoke about the unique issues faced by queer youth. 80% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that the Covid pandemic made their living situation more stressful, and only 1 in 3 stated that they live in an LGBTQ+-affirming household. They also emphasized how living in an affirming home with supportive family can decrease their risk of suicide, and spoke about how a lack of research into queer issues causes a lack of understanding of these issues, leading to less funding. While resources from the government may be lacking, they also spoke about the resources the Trevor Project offers, including a 24/7 hotline that can connect queer youth to mental health counselors.

State Senator Julian Cyr, who represents Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, was able to give perspective on policy and legislation that is aiming to improve adolescent health. His bill “Mental Health ABC Act 2.0: Addressing Barriers to Care” was passed in the Mass. state senate last November, and one of its goals is to reform mental health care in the Commonwealth. He spoke about how it addresses the current boarding crisis in emergency departments (EDs), through both requiring coverage and eliminating restrictive requirements for acute mental health care during a crisis. The bill also establishes a complex case resolution panel to help break down barriers to care for children, and creates an online portal with access to data on available beds, helping health care providers find open beds for their patients.  “We’ve sort of ignored and not focused on these mental health reforms for quite some time. I’m going to be honest, it’s going to take more than one bill, more than one session to get this right, but you really should be encouraged that this is at the top of the agenda in the legislature,” Cyr said.

The Covid crisis has further worsened the country’s chronically inadequate mental health services for children and adolescents, contributing to a dramatic increase in depression, anxiety and suicidality. Long waits for evaluation and treatment, unavailable acute or in-hospital services, and the suspension of in-school supports have created unmanageable challenges, especially for families economically stressed by Covid.  Current government responses and proposed legislation will take years to have any impact, at a time when our national Defense budget continues to balloon. The US sustains a long tradition of devoting less of the GNP to children’s needs than most of the Western Nations.

Co-sponsors of the program were: The Children’s Mental Health Campaign; The PPAL (Parent and Professional Advocacy League); The Women’s Health Institute; and The Waterlow Workshop.

The full webinar is available to watch here.

The Fund Healthcare Not Warfare committee formed in response to the Covid pandemic, and advocates allocating more government funds towards healthcare issues rather than the already bloated $778 billion defense budget. The goal of the webinar series is to focus on the mental health of children and adolescents in various age groups, particularly how they have been affected by the pandemic. 

Keep posted for the next in this series on Children’s Mental Health In the Era of Covid – School-Age, Kindergarten-8th grade.