CDC report reflects mental health struggles pediatricians see in young patients

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – A recent CDC analysis sheds new light on just how much the COVID pandemic impacted teens’ mental health.

Dr. Randy Schumacher, a pediatrician at Cotton O’Neil Clinic in Topeka, says he wasn’t surprised by the findings. He and his colleagues have been seeing in the mental health screenings they do at every checkup.

“Even before the pandemic, teens were struggling with mental health,” he said. “Two years ago, everybody was all in it together and things were different but people were able to adjust. Then, probably 18 to 12 months ago and definitely now, we’re seeing a lot more kids are struggling with anxiety and depression. These big shifts and big swings that we’re seeing can be difficult.”

According to the CDC data, in 2021, 37 percent of high school students said they experienced poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44 percent said they persistently felt sad or hopeless. In addition, 55 percent reported emotional abuse by a parent or adult; 11 percent suffered physical abuse; and 29 percent had a parent or adult in their home lose a job.

“It kind of gave insight into some of the struggles at home kids were having,” Dr. Schumacher said. “We know struggles and home can translate into issues at school, issues with mental health.”

The report also looked at what it called “school connectedness.” Only 35 percent of teens who felt connected to adults and peers at school said they regularly felt sad or hopeless, compared to 53 percent of those who did not. Connected teens also were less likely to consider suicide (14 percent vs. 26 percent) or attempt suicide (6 percent vs. 12 percent).

But fewer than half of youth – 47 percent – actually felt close to people at school during the pandemic.

“I think it’s a good explanation of the support that school provides,” Dr. Schumacher said. “It’s not just education, but there’s emotional support, social supports. For some kids that’s where they get that.”

Dr. Schumacher says communication is key to ensuring kids are on the right track.

“If you notice things are different, like maybe their teen is a little more withdrawn, or in their room more often, or sleeping a little bit more or a little bit less, just checking in and trying open up that conversation. I think for most kids, they just need a little bit of support and they need to check in,” he said.

All Cotton O’Neil Clinics have a behavioral health practitioner and social worker on-site, so if anything concerning does come up, they can have an initial meeting right away to connect families with resources.

Dr. Schumacher also suggests a free, confidential app called “7 Cups,” that teens can use for mental health support. It partners locally with Family Service and Guidance Center. You can find information about it and a code to enter for the download on the FSGC Topeka web site.

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