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Mental Health Moment: Addressing Today's Adolescent Mental Health Crisis

We attended Hopeway's presentation last night, The Sooner, The Better: Addressing Today's Adolescent Mental Health Crisis. This is such an important topic, and we were pleased to see a room full of people who were there to learn more. The setting was an informal discussion between the CEO and Chief Medical Officer, Alyson R. Kuroski-Mazzei, and Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, founding president and medical director of the Child Mind Institute, the only independent national nonprofit dedicated to child and adolescent mental health. Keep reading for some of the takeaways from last night's presentation and for resources you may find helpful.

Dr. Koplewicz defined adolescence as people between the ages of 10 and 24, when the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates thoughts, actions, and emotions, has not fully developed. "Kids feel everything more intensely," said Dr. Koplewicz, and kids trying to process feelings and emotions with a prefrontal cortex that is not fully developed can lead to bad decision-making. The adolescent mental health crisis has been in focus since Covid; however, Covid only exacerbated an already existing issue. From 2014-2018, adolescent suicide attempts jumped from 4600 to 6900, and mental health hospitalizations increased from 600,000 to 1.2 million in that same time period.

Dr. Koplewicz gave us the following frightening statistics:

  • 1 out of 3 girls in 2021 had a suicide plan

  • On average, children don't see a mental health professional until eight years after symptom onset

  • According to The American Psychological Association The most common adolescent illnesses are now mental health related

  • 17.5 million kids have a mental health disorder (1 out of 5 kids)

  • 70% of US counties have no board certified child psychiatrists (Mecklenburg County has 2)

The three things Dr. Koplewicz said are most important to mental health are sleep, exercise, and real life interaction. Covid certainly increased people's isolation, which has only exacerbated the mental health crisis; however, the increasing use of social media certainly was disrupting all three areas pre-Covid.

Dr. Koplewicz was asked what we, as parents, can do. His suggestions were:

  • Know your child - know your child's sleep patterns, eating patterns, and level of involvement in things (school, homework, extracurriculars). That way, you can see potential warning signs if one of these patterns changes.

  • Celebrate effort - teach your child resilience. You are not always going to get the result you want, but teach your children that "we work hard." Did your child study for a test, work with a tutor, and put in their best effort but still got a C - Dr. Koplewicz says celebrate that effort with your child.

  • DON'T SWOOP IN - The desire to fix something for your child or plow the way to remove obstacles is tempting, but you are doing a disservice to your child. Not only do they next experience failure and develop resilience, but they are also getting the message from you that you don't think they are good enough to handle things.

The Child Mind Institute has developed a curriculum called Healthy Minds/Thriving Kids - a program that has been implemented in California and is being implemented in Ohio (Dr. Koplewicz said the Institute is in talks with the North Carolina Governor to potentially bring this program to North Carolina). The program is a series of lessons intended to teach children and adolescents the skills they need to be healthy and thrive. The skills are:

  • Understand your feelings

  • Understand your thoughts

  • Manage your emotions

  • Relaxation

  • Mindfulness

We work with kids every day, and this is an issue that we are passionate about. It is so important to continue to talk about this and find solutions to protect our kids. Below are some resources to help you support the children you know.


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