The kids are not alright.
That’s according to virtually all recent studies conducted on the current state of mental health when it comes to America’s youth. Between 2008 and 2018, the suicide rate for individuals ages 10 to 24 rose by a whopping 60%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The numbers declined over the next two years, despite the arrival of the pandemic in 2020. However, in 2021, the rates were back on the incline.
Perhaps just as alarming, the CDC reports that the number of suicide attempts for adolescents rose by 52% between 2005 and 2017, then saw yet another sharp increase between 2019 and 2021.
But these remain the most extreme cases. What about those who aren’t suicidal but are still struggling? The numbers yet again tell an disturbing tale.
A 2021 CDC survey showed that 60% of teenage girls reported feeling sadness every day for at least two weeks during the previous year, twice the rate among boys. It also revealed that one in three teen girls had considered taking their own lives.
At least some of this would seem to be connected to a sense of loneliness that is prevalent amongst Generation Z in a way not yet previously seen before. A 2021 survey from the Survey Center of American Life showed that 56% of Gen Z reported feeling lonely at least once or twice a month during their childhood. Compare that to only 14% of Boomers who reported feeling something similar at that age.
With technology constantly evolving, isolating oneself is relatively easy. We can do our work, shopping, communicating, and increasingly our socializing without leaving our couch. There are obviously significant and positive advantages to having so much just a keystroke away, but it can also come at a cost. We are, all of us, “plugged in” with alarming frequency.
That’s why ensuring that children and teens are active, engaged, and involved outside the home and away from screens is so important. And that’s why the continued success of art and music programs at local schools and around town remain critical.
Last week, Dodd Middle School students performed “Annie Jr.” This coming week, the high schoolers will take to the stage for “The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy.” As CHS teacher and production director Dawn DeMeo told The Herald, she chose “The Addams Family” because it seemed like everyone could use a laugh right about now.
She’s right. But more importantly, her actors could use the interactions. Just as local musicians can use the in-person practices or the teenage artists can use the time together to explore creatively. It’s not just about discovering talents or life-long passions. It’s about developing friendships that don’t require a password and forming bonds that aren’t based on GIFs or emojis.
Cheshire is rightfully seen as a “sports community,” given how many youngsters participate in sports and how many adults, organizations, and businesses actively support local teams. And it’s clear that sports can be a huge factor in getting children and teens out, active, and together. But for all of those who have neither the interest in nor the talent for sports, there need to be other outlets.
That’s why the stage is so important. So is the art class, or the music hall — anywhere these like-minded youngsters can gather and talk and break free from computer screens and social media updates.
There’s no one answer to fixing the country’s mental health problems. The causes are too complicated to be addressed by any one thing. But creating an environment where children are less lonely, less attached to the virtual world and more engaged in the real one, is an important step in the right direction.