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On Twitter recently, writer Ann Bauer recounted a meeting she attended with a Minnesota lawmaker about school closures in her area. Parents testified that they’re worried about suicides; a 15-year-old growing up in the wealthy suburb sobbed about how she has gone to a place “so dark, she didn’t know if she’d get out.”
Continued lockdowns are killing our kids — literally.
A Las Vegas school district saw such a spike in suicide numbers, it rushed forward its reopening plan. The superintendent explained to The New York Times, “When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the COVID numbers we need to look at anymore. We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.”
Chris Buckner, the father of a young man in Illinois who committed suicide, told the media that “the teen had been battling depression the last few years, but his depression worsened significantly after COVID hit.’”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children’s mental-health-related visits to emergency rooms are up by as much as a third, compared to 2019 figures.
In a single week in mid-March 2020, kids’ lives were turned upside-down. They lost it all in short order: routine, school, friends, activities. There is no indication if or when things may return to normal, and they are now spending their days glued to Zoom school, isolated and increasingly besieged by the effects of our pandemic-mitigation efforts.
I spoke with a number of mental-health experts about what this moment could be doing to kids’ and teens’ mental health in the long term. Is the baby in a viral Internet video who thought every box is hand sanitizer, for example, at increased likelihood for obsessive-compulsive disorder, caused by our hyper-focus on hygiene the past 10 months? Are older kids and teens doomed to a lifetime of crippling anxiety and depression?
J.D. Friedman, a clinical psychologist and partner at Baker Street Behavioral Health in Northern New Jersey, was reassuring, to a point. He told me, “You cannot give a child, or anyone else, OCD.” That’s good news, but unfortunately, there’s a catch.
For kids who were already predisposed to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety or OCD (to name a few), Friedman explained this moment “can absolutely tip the scales to full-blown pathology.” Whereas many kids may have had a hope of coming through childhood into adulthood without issue under normal circumstances, though would have been at increased risk for problems due to family instability or genetics, due to lockdowns the majority of these kids will likely see their mental-health issues intensify and speed up.
For the average child, the prognosis for long-term mental-health recovery is optimistic. For now. Kids are resilient, but, again, only up to a point. If lockdowns continues into the fall and 2022 — as many parents fear will happen, with teachers unions obstructing a return to in-person learning — mental-health experts fear that we’re facing a generation of scarred and broken men and women.
Millions of American kids are struggling, and their chances for long-term improved mental health is predicated on the notion that we will now prioritize their emotional well-being, which our society has tragically shown it has no intention of doing.
Our hope for raising an emotionally healthy and mentally stable generation is dissipating with every day kids are kept locked in their bedrooms and out of schools. Skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety are in no small part due to the fact that children feel neglected and forgotten, and they are not wrong to feel that way.
Our society has abandoned them and treated them as disposable. The damage caused by this abandonment is incalculable, and compounding every day we allow inertia, irrationality and the craven priorities of teachers unions to rule our decision-making.
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