Lionhearted: Emergencies for Adolescent Mental Health

Lion mother with cub in banner for Lionhearted: Emergencies

Volume 6 • Issue 6 • November 2021

Uplift Family Services is a trauma-informed agency, providing whole person care through resilience-oriented, data-driven, culturally sensitive services. We believe in the power of staff investment, advocacy and collaboration as we partner with individuals, families, and communities to heal from the widespread impact of trauma.

Last month, three medical groups released a Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.  Here is an excerpt:

We have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the pandemic. Children and families across our country have experienced enormous adversity and disruption.  The inequities that result from structural racism have contributed to disproportionate impacts on children from communities of color.

 

Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. The pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts … We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities.

My right brain received this Declaration with a standing ovation. My left brain was initially skeptical. To a physician, an emergency is about what happens in the next few minutes. If someone overdoses, those next few minutes are either about effective intervention or dire consequences. Unlike a crisis, an emergency always comes to an end, one way or the other.

But what if that end is not immediate? What if urgent intervention is necessary to prevent consequences years or even decades later? This is the view that 1900 local governments in 34 countries adopted in declaring climate change to be a climate emergency. Act now or pay the price, even if that’s a hundred years from now.

The same applies to children’s behavioral health: without prompt action, current developments pose an irreversible threat to the future. Early-life trauma puts young people at risk for lifelong problems in health, social, educational, and other life domains. These in turn threaten the well-being of future generations. We may be able to ameliorate those effects, but we will never reverse them.

This is not to diminish the personal magnitude of ever more common individual crises, not to mention their ripple effects on the well-being of family and friends and the capacity of community mental health and social services.

The Declaration reframes the role of our staff – those doing direct service and the rest of us who support them.  Everything we address at Uplift Family Services is part of a greater public health emergency: not only the desperate calls that ramp up a provider’s adrenalin, but every symptom, every opportunity for support, every threat to well-being and good function. Seen through this lens, we are first responders every day.

To do this work, you need to take pride in your successes, take care of yourself, support your colleagues, and self-monitor for burnout and secondary trauma. You are essential to the well-being of kids and families today and for generations to come.