(IFS) The Adolescent Mental Health Crisis Is Our Responsibility

Many of us have seen the tragic news story about Lauren Bernett, the high-achieving James Madison University sophomore softball player who committed suicide in April. Unfortunately, adolescent suicide is on the rise, and Lauren is just one of too many victims.

Newly-released statistics on suicide rates reveal a rise in adolescent suicide from 2020 to 2022. This significant rise is evidence of the neurological and emotional fragility of adolescents, which has never been more obvious than during the pandemic. The increase in the despair and anger of teens—as reflected in rising suicide rates—are an example of the collective trauma we have all experienced. And yet this mental health crises, which existed before COVID, is also a communication to us as parents, teachers, and other authority figures that we are failing our children by not preparing them for adversity in their lives and by our handling of the pandemic in terms of the imposed social isolation and myriad of losses they experienced. Our children are the barometers of how we are doing as a society—much like a Faustian painting—and the unhappiness is off the charts.

Even before COVID hit, there was an epidemic of mental illness in children and adolescents, and the pandemic simply amplified the scale of our children’s unhappiness with us as parents and society. Don’t get me wrong: this is not about shaming or blaming. There are many parents who have tried everything to relieve the suffering of their children, and the result is still a sad one. However, in the majority of the families I treat, suicidal threats are a way for children to wake up their parents and adults in their lives to their unhappiness and to make necessary changes in the family and in their lives, such as addressing past and present family traumas, getting mental health treatment, and resolving social and academic pressures.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Psychology, Teens / Youth