‘It’s a crisis’: More children with mental health issues, pandemic challenges

Lauderdale Barracks – Covid is not over, but the epidemic has revealed a worrying trend – children’s mental health has suffered.

According to the Mental Health Alliance, in 2022, fifteen percent of children between the ages of 12 and 17 reported having experienced at least one major depressive episode. That was 306,000 more than last year.

It’s a crisis,” said Catherine Lewis, a licensed family therapist at The Bougainvilla House, a nonprofit therapy center in Ft Lauderdale that describes itself as a safe place for children and young adults to grow emotionally.

To understand why children’s mental health is poor, CBS4 has been given rare access to the center.

With their families’ permission, we spoke with teens who have opened up about the struggles of growing up in the digital age with the complex challenges of the pandemic.

“I grew up on technology,” said 13-year-old Heidi Sanchez.

But therapists say that all this technology can have a negative effect on her.

According to management of The Bougainvilla House, the challenges children face are magnified on social media as they are “put under a microscope and visible for the world to see”.

Sanchez suffers from social anxiety, deals with a past family conflict, and suffers from depression. She said that she felt isolated while the school was closed and dealt with many ups and downs at work online

“I was in a class at Google,” Sanchez said. “I only had two courses and I was doing this work. Then I realized I hadn’t scrolled down the entire quarter and was failing at four other things.”

This caused her more stress and anxiety.

Bougainvillea said in 2020, just before the pandemic, it treats 70 children a week. Now, on average, they treat 185 children a week, more than double the previous number.

They believe the increase can be directly linked to social media and technology

“I’m glad more kids are coming in but these things were there before,” Lewis said.

She believes that social media and excessive screen time can lead to anxiety and depression.

“It’s definitely a double-edged sword. It’s part of their culture, so they have the support of their online friends but it’s also a bigger source of pain. You see what’s out there. People are more successful than you. They have better grades so there are higher expectations,” Lewis said.

Sanchez said she noticed big changes in her classmates when in-person learning resumed at school.

“I think the biggest impact was the amount of social skills we had,” she said. “Because I noticed in class that some kids would yell at the teacher instead of raising their hands.”

Sanchez said that when she’s not in school, she’s in front of a screen at least four hours a day.

“I’ve been touched by the way people look at me,” she said. “One time someone called me stupid and I took it very seriously.”

Besides Sanchez, we asked two other people in therapy about their social media habits and stressors.

Grace is 12 years old and Jasmine is 18 years old and she graduated from high school

Jasmine said that this year she spends more than six hours a day on social media.

“I think being in a group is better than it was during COVID when I was confined to a house,” she said.

Jasmine, Grace and Sanchez said that dropping out of school during the pandemic has been bothering them the most. They said they missed the school’s presence structure, which is a reason to go every day.

But they all agreed that communicating online is more convenient than communicating in person

There’s less risk, Jasmine said, so if you read something you don’t have to respond right away.

So what can parents and educators do to tackle this mental health crisis?

For starters, Lewis said parents can provide an open space

“I think the kids know there is a space where they can talk about problems. They may not use it but it is healthy and healing in and of itself,” she said, “knowing that there is space for that.

“I would lock myself up in my room and not talk to my mom much,” Sanchez said.

But she said she has learned over time that listening is a prescription for better mental health

She said, “The best thing a parent can do is listen, that’s what most kids want. Sometimes listening is better than resting.”

Those who would like more information about the programs offered at The Bougainvilla House can call (954) 765-6283 or visit tbhcares.org.