In every city, in every region, across the country – probably around the world – the youth mental health crisis is building.
In their bedrooms, in their parents’ basements, in shelters, young people are “attending” virtual classes while they dwindle away, becoming less and less confident about their future. These are youth who were already struggling before the pandemic but, in a virtual classroom, it is much easier to escape notice. These youth want help, but they don’t have the energy to ask for it.
Any adult who remembers their adolescence likely remembers how much they did not want attention, how hard it was to answer questions, how easy it was to just say quickly “Everything’s fine.” During the pandemic, a teen can languish for weeks or months and no one might ever notice.
For every youth who does speak out, and get help because they did ask, the evidence shows that there are three others who expertly internalize their fears and concerns. Some of them may notice their auditory hallucinations are worse at night and decide that “it’s just anxiety” or that “it will go away.” Some become less and less able to leave the house, but that is noticed as a good thing right now. These are the youth who are never noticed for where they are, but for where they are not.
These quiet, studious youth would be missed at school. Their grandmother would miss them when they don’t visit. Their best friend- whom they are always with – would notice when they don’t call. But right now, there may be no one to notice. A teacher might not notice when a troubled young person is not in school because many youth are not “in school.” A grandmother might not notice because youth cannot visit as they once did. Friends are not in touch as much as they were when you could just hang out.
“It’s the pandemic,” we think.
In the meantime, a quiet youth can get even more quiet, desperately quiet, with no one noticing “because of the pandemic.” A youth with auditory hallucinations might not realize that this is a serious symptom. Someone said to me, “Dr. Beck, I hadn’t talked to anybody in so long that I just thought I was beginning to hear people. I just thought this could happen if I was lonely.”
Even though we know there is a crisis in youth mental health, we do not always hear from youth. Even those of us who know, who wonder where those quiet youth are, find ourselves caught up in the deceptive quiet of our time. We think youth are suffering, but we don’t know how to find them. Do we call grandmothers or check the shelters?
Even when we do ask, we already know the answer we’ll hear.
“It’s the pandemic.”