A child’s mental health is as critical to their development as their physical health. It guides the growth of emotional, social, cognitive and communication skills, and establishes a strong foundation for good mental health and well-being later in life. But what exactly is mental health for a child? Broadly speaking, it’s the way children think and feel about themselves and the world around them, which impacts not only their thought patterns but also their coping mechanisms when faced with stressors. Unsurprisingly, childhood mental health can have lasting effects on individuals and influence their well-being for the rest of their lives.
Mental health and mental illness are determined by many different factors in a child’s life, including environmental factors and predispositions based on a child’s genetic makeup. In recent years, mental health conditions have become considerably more prevalent worldwide, with about 1 in 7 10–19-year-olds experiencing mental health conditions (WHO, 2021). Furthermore, the CDC reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15–19-year-olds in the United States (21.5%), beaten only by unintentional injuries (34.5%). According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, about one in five (20%) Canadian youth have a mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression. While this proportion has remained stable in the last decade (2008–2019), there has been an alarming 60% increase in hospitalizations and a 61% increase in emergency department visits by Canadian youth for mental health disorders.
While many factors may be influencing these statistics, they suggest an increase in the severity of mental health disorders among youth in our society. For me, these statistics speak a lot to the cultural changes we’re seeing, especially among the younger age groups. There has been such a shift in prioritizing one’s online presence over having real-world interactions that our time spent engaging in healthy ways with the world around us is limited. A growing body of evidence shows that the more time one spends on social media, the more likely they are to develop mental health symptoms such as isolation, anxiety, and hopelessness, which is even more concerning given the average age at which children begin using social media—12.5 years old. Moreover, these statistics don’t even take into account the new stressors that are concomitant with the current pandemic, which has ravaged the world in so many ways, not the least of which includes mental health. Social isolation, job loss, and general uncertainty about the future has been devastating for many families, yet youth appear to be at the greatest risk of experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic according to Statistics Canada.
It goes without saying that we’re living through some dark times right now. The main takeaway here is to look out for one another and remember the stress that everyone is facing. We’re all going through this together. Check in with your loved ones and seek help if you need support yourself. We can all use a hand every now and then—you’re not alone.