Youth mental health issues skyrocket during pandemic in US

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(Source: Unsplash / Joice Kelly)

The U.S. Surgeon General warned on Tuesday that young people face a “devastating” mental health crisis that has been dramatically exacerbated by the conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, since the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, rates of “psychological distress” among young people, including symptoms of anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders, have increased dramatically. The Surgeon General’s report is based on recent research covering 80,000 young people around the world. The results show that symptoms of depression and anxiety doubled during the pandemic, with 25% of young people showing symptoms of depression and 20% showing symptoms of anxiety.

The report also notes other disturbing signs of distress among young people. At the start of 2021, emergency department visits in the United States for suspected suicide attempts were 51% higher for teenage girls and 4% higher for teenagers than at the same time in early 2019. Early estimates which suggest more than 6,600 suicide deaths occurred among 10-24 year olds in 2020.

As the mainstream media reacted to these shocking numbers, it is to downplay their seriousness and the larger social context. In an article from New York Times by Matt Ritchel, “Surgeon General Wars of Youth Mental Health Crisis,” for example, the author barely refers to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The author, rather, spends most of the article arguing over minor factors such as too much “screen time” and “online interactions.”

Towards the end of the article, when the pandemic is finally mentioned, Ritchel writes that the pandemic has increased stress among young people, “in part by isolating them during a period of their lives when social connection is vital for healthy development. “. While there is no doubt that the social isolation caused by the pandemic has had an impact on young people, the argument put forward by the Time is done in bad faith.

Since the start of the pandemic, mainstream press and politicians on both sides of the aisle have sought to arm the mental health crisis to justify reopening schools despite the enormous health risks to young people, teachers and staff and the community at large. . These politicians, many of whom have spent their careers overseeing the destruction of social services, the starvation of education funds, and the exorbitant funding of militarism abroad and at home, expect the public to believe that ‘They are deeply concerned about the mental illness crisis. youth health.

The reality is that the political establishment has a material interest in sending children back to school. The reopening of schools has always been a prerequisite for the return to work of workers in order to maintain the flow of corporate profits. The impact this has had and continues to have on children really doesn’t matter to these numbers. Regarding the Time, Ritchel concludes his article by casting doubt on the validity of the statistics themselves, arguing that young people may simply be more comfortable reporting mental health issues than previous generations.

Who could believe in such nonsense? It should be noted that the Time does not mention another astounding statistic in the report: It is estimated that as of June 2021, more than 140,000 children in the United States had lost a parent or grandparent dealing with COVID-19. That is, nearly one in four of the 621,656 deaths from COVID-19 as of June 30, almost 6 months ago, were from parents or caregivers. Added to this is the number of children who have suffered the loss of a dear teacher or school staff member to illness, a figure that has not been counted despite the scale of the disease. impact.

We can also add that in addition to losing their loved ones and their educators to COVID-19, at least one in seven infected children and potentially one third of infected adults will suffer from Long COVID, defined as symptoms that persist for more than four weeks after infection.

Still others have been plunged into extreme poverty: 15 percent of American families reported high food insecurity before the pandemic, reaching 26.8 percent last year. Food insecurity among low-income families has increased from 29.2% before the pandemic to 45.4% today.

These are just the most tangible indications of the immense level of trauma inflicted on an entire generation of young people.

The youthful years of human development are meant to be a time of hope, optimism and idealism. For those who come of age in the early 2020s, this period presents itself more like a nightmare. A teenager today will have spent the past two years watching in disbelief as the death toll from the virus soar every day, until it now exceeds 800,000.

There is no doubt that they have heard stories, or know firsthand about the ongoing social misery – people dying alone in hospital beds without a loved one being allowed to. enter the room to say goodbye to them. Millions more may have waited with their parents in queues themselves, lost their homes and watched their parents struggle to provide for their families while at risk of being infected with a deadly virus. All the while, a very slim portion of the richest people in the world continue to make record profits. The world’s billionaires added $ 3.6 trillion to their net worth in 2020, while 100 million were pushed into extreme poverty.

The numbers presented in the report are truly devastating. The callous and indifferent response of the entire ruling class to the pandemic over the past two years has created a catastrophe for the working class, and the youth have undoubtedly been severely affected.

However, the report also correctly notes that while the pandemic accelerated the mental health crisis among young people, it certainly did not create it. In the last two decades in particular, mental health problems have exploded among young people.

In 2019, for example, one in three high school students and half of female students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an overall increase of 40% from 2009. The report notes that the percentage of young people aged 12 at age 17 who had a major problem Last year’s depressive episode, for example, fell from about 8% in 2010 to 15.7% in 2019, according to data from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The percentage of high school students who were seriously considering suicide fell from 13.8% in 2009 to 18.8% in 2019, according to an October 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Depression, anxiety and suicide among young people in particular are among the most tragic symptoms of a sick and terminally ill social order. The staggering mental health crisis that workers and young people face today is a by-product of an entire social system that relies on the sacrifice of lives for private profit and wealth. The pandemic has only revealed the reality of capitalism in its most open and bare form.

No faction of the ruling class has anything close to an answer to such problems. The real answer, however, is emerging more openly and with more force every day.

The same conditions that give rise to the litany of mental health disorders among young people also arouse social opposition. Workers around the world are starting to fight back.

The past few months have seen a series of major strikes here in the United States: Volvo Trucks workers in Dublin, Virginia; Kentucky distillery workers; hospital workers in Buffalo, New York; Warrior Met Coal Miners in Northern Alabama; California telecommunications border workers; and much more. As recently as yesterday, more than 1,400 Kellogg grain workers in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Tennessee voted overwhelmingly to reject a union-backed contract after a two-month strike.

This week, teachers and support staff at The School at Marygrove, a public school in Detroit, Mich., Launched a savage work stoppage to demand better safety measures after the Oxford school shooting , and virtual classrooms only to protect educators, 330 students and their families from COVID-19.

The protest in Detroit is part of growing resistance from educators in the United States and around the world, including a one-day strike by 50,000 New South Wales teachers in Australia on Monday.

As the unions try to do everything to quell the opposition, there is an objective movement that is developing. The scale of rejection of contracts by workers – often over 90% – is the expression of a powerful and growing climate of social resistance.

Young people as a whole are becoming politically radicalized. Even before the pandemic, more young people supported socialism than capitalism. As with other social trends, the pandemic will dramatically accelerate this process.

For young people looking for a way forward, the turn must be on the working class. The struggles of students and young people must be linked to the struggle of all workers against the pandemic, social inequalities, war and the capitalist system.

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