The survey of 17,000 teens nationwide by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that girls’ feelings of sadness were twice as high as boys’.
The CDC conducts the survey every two years and said the number of youth mental health problems has risen with every report since 2011.
Experts on Long Island attributed that to several factors, including the pandemic, but some focused on the rise of the smartphone and the constant access it gives children to social media.
WHAT TO KNOW
Almost 3 out of 5 teenage girls felt lingering sadness in 2021 as 1 in 3 seriously considered attempting suicide, says a new CDC survey.
Experts said that mirrored trends on Long Island, where they say it’s extremely hard to find psychotherapists.
- An expert blamed it smartphones and social media for much of the distress young people feel.
Dr. Victor Fornari, the vice chairman of child and adolescent psychiatry for Northwell Health, said the declining mental health of teens and younger children parallels the widespread use of smartphones.
“We’re really seeing an association with the smartphone in the hand of every teen over the past decade and the dramatic increase in this rate of depression and suicidal ideation among young people,” he told Newsday.
At Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where he practices, the number of adolescents coming to the emergency room because of suicidal thoughts or attempts has skyrocketed over the past four decades, he said.
In 1982 there were 250. In 2010 that had risen to 3,000. By 2022, there will be about 8,000, he said.
Experts also cited other causes of young people’s deteriorating mental health, including pandemic-era isolation, pressures to return to “normal” school life, rising drug use, fears of mass shootings, and a lack of therapists and psychiatric services. institutions. health consultants.
Kathleen Ethier, director of the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, said that in 30 years of collecting similar data, “We’ve never seen these kinds of devastating, consistent findings. There is no doubt that young people tell us that they are in crisis. The data really invites us to act.”
Jeffrey Friedman, CEO of the nonprofit Central Nassau Guidance & Counseling Services in Hicksville, said his agency has seen an increase in young people and especially girls coming to them for help during the pandemic.
He said that by the time they arrive, many are “very close to the end of their tether” because it is so difficult for their parents to find mental health providers.
“It’s really hard to navigate the mental health system,” he said. “So if you have to find a child psychiatrist on Long Island, it’s almost impossible. There are very few of them and many do not take insurance. And so parents and families feel alone, that there is no help.”
Monique Barragan, a licensed mental health counselor at the North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center in Nassau County, said the pandemic has increased isolation and anxiety among young people. But the transition to regular classes has also led to mental health challenges.
“It’s almost a shock,” she said. When they were locked up at home, “they didn’t really have to think about other people judging them.”
The nonprofit Family Service League, which operates primarily in Suffolk County, said it was responding to seven youth and young adult suicides in 2022, and four already this year.
The number of school districts that have applied for anti-suicide programs has increased from three in 2021 to six in 2022, said Kathy Rosenthal, the group’s senior vice president.
Fornari, from Northwell, said society needs to find a way to prevent smartphones from undermining children’s mental health.
“How many times an hour do they check their texts, their emails and WhatsApp, their social media sites?” he said.
“In conversations with children, you hear about all the ways they feel belittled, insulted, angry, attacked for being excluded from an event or betrayed by a friend,” he said. “It goes on throughout the day to the point where they’re so distracted they can’t even focus on anything else.”
“Obviously there are a lot of benefits and a lot of benefits of social media, but there’s also a dark side,” he said, “and I think the mental health crisis in young people is part of the dark side.”