Healthier Together: Mental health crisis among children

Crisis levels -- that’s what some medical professionals are calling the mental health crisis among children, teens, and even young adults.

In Healthier Together, KIRO 7′s Ranji Sinha spoke to a behavioral health specialist who delved into the root causes of the crisis and learned that offering help can often involve simple actions.

Dr. Mike Franz, the Executive medical director of behavioral health with Regence BlueShield, echoed the sentiments of many other professionals regarding young people and mental health.

“It’s certainly not good, and I think many people would say it’s bordering on dire, if not dire. I like to say we’re having an epidemic following a pandemic,” Franz said.

The empty streets and eerie images at the height of the pandemic would give nearly everyone some level of mental anguish.

Still, Franz says for children, teens, and some young adults, mental health concerns pre-date the pandemic by several years.

He says from children to teens and young adults, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders were all present and got worse with the Pandemic.

“Girls up to 25% may be experiencing a major depressive episode at any given time,” Franz said.

Franz says the CDC surveys roughly 17,000 high school students regularly, with the recent results coming in the last two years.

Among that group, 44% reported feeling persistently hopeless or sad, with 19% contemplating suicide and 9% attempting suicide.

The numbers increase for girls, according to Franz and data from the CDC.

“We have a call to action. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the U.S. Surgeon General have all declared a national emergency,” Franz said.

Understanding the mental health emergency is key to tackling it, according to Franz.

He says parents need to realize the vast majority of behavioral health situations emerge before the age of 24, and 50% emerge before age 14, but many kids are not identified as having these conditions.

Parents need to be screening and should look at changes to routines, but also changes in emotions in any form.

He also says academic performance faltering is a signal -- engaging on all these comes with a pretty simple directive.

“Don’t ignore it. Number one pay attention. Be present. That’s the most important thing to be present and be available,” Franz said.

With summer just around the corner, the school structure may not be there for a kid in crisis, or a child approaching a potential crisis situation.

It’s one reason why Franz says summer should mean getting outside and getting active.

Franz also says parents who are present and maybe dealing with a child in crisis should not do certain things.

“It’s not going to be helpful to tell your own war stories. Perhaps occasionally, a little thoughtful self-disclosure so they can relate to you can be helpful, but in general, just be there, and maybe your child will be more comfortable letting you in,” Franz said.

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