Mar 15, 2021
Young people’s mental health is at severe risk as the isolation resulting from the government’s total incapacity to contain COVID-19 drags on.
According to a survey carried out by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), already in June almost two-thirds of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both. Another 25% reported beginning or increasing their use of substances to cope. One in four reported that they had contemplated suicide in the last 30 days. Since then, other more localized studies have reported similar or even more dire results.
And in the midst of this crisis, the U.S. has a severe shortage of mental health care. In many places, it has become nearly impossible to get a counseling appointment—especially if you have less-than-stellar insurance. Many facilities that promise to take Medicaid actually only take one or two Medicaid patients a year.
It should be no surprise then that emergency room visits by young people for mental health problems skyrocketed in 2020. But E.R.s are unprepared to deal with mental health problems. Dr. Rebecca Baum, a developmental pediatrician in Asheville, N.C., reported: “Kids are having to board in the E.R. for days on end, because there are no psychiatric beds available in their entire state, never mind the hospital.”
All this is not just a consequence of COVID-19: young people were already facing a mental health crisis before it hit. By 2019, according to the National Institute of Health, about 1 in 3 adolescents experienced an anxiety disorder as they grew up, with rates increasing rapidly since the early 2000s. Between 2005 and 2017, the rates of youth diagnosed with depression also increased more than 60%.
More young people were also already acting out in desperate ways. According to the CDC, the suicide rate for people aged 10–24 had risen by about 50% between 2007 and 2018, and the rate of hospitalizations for suicide attempts nearly doubled.
Even before COVID hit, when mental health care was less scarce, capitalist society only offered individual solutions to this social problem. For years, younger and younger children have been given stronger and stronger medications—if their insurance would pay. Parents of mentally ill youth were often overwhelmed with advice on how to help their specific kids—as if each individual family might handle its own problems.
But when the rates of mental illness are this high, the problem is not individual: it is rooted in a society that even before the pandemic did not give young people a way to make a place for themselves, to make meaningful connections, and to find a purpose in their lives.
This capitalist society in decay increasingly cannot meet the basic needs of our children. Could there be any greater sign that it needs to be replaced?