The Kids Are Not Alright: We Have To Address Teenage Mental Health During The Pandemic And Beyond
There is no denying we are living in extraordinary times. Amid the fear and uncertainty caused by Covid-19, there has been a spike in suicide, domestic violence, depression, and anxiety as the virus takes a toll on our physical and emotional health. But while we are doing a good job of addressing those issues in spaces designed for adults, unfortunately, we are not giving our children that same energy.
Jo’Vianni Smith, a 15-year-old girl and promising student-athlete from Stockton committed suicide just one month after nationwide social distancing orders were issued to slow the spread of the virus which has now claimed hundreds of thousands of lives globally. Although Jo’Vianni left no note explaining why she decided to end her life, according to Fox 40, she “may have had trouble coping with California’s stay-at-home order.” As her mother, Danielle Hunt, told the local news outlet: “We can’t think that our kids are OK just because.”
The notion that children are okay because they don’t have the same concerns as adults was a widely held belief long before the current pandemic. Aside from a lack of acknowledgement that many of us are born with mental and emotional issues, there is a reluctance to see the world through the eyes of children who face the daily pressures of fitting in with their peers and being bullied and body-shamed, all while experiencing hormonal changes, developing their identities, and facing other societal hardships. We can’t continue to let the adage, “Well, I turned out alright,” lead us to suppress our kids’ childhood traumas as we did our own. We should be doing simple things like talking to our children, asking about their feelings, and seeking counseling when it’s clear something is wrong. Even Jo’Vianni’s mother acknowledged, “Sometimes we may need to stop and worry about the kids that we don’t think we need to worry about.”
Since this quarantine began, I haven’t logged onto Instagram without seeing a post with the popular Erykah Badu quote; “Sisters how y’all feel, fellas y’all alright?” While I get the lighthearted greeting, as a mother who is nurturing and raising a child with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I have a greater understanding. I have always addressed my children’s mental and emotional health, but due to my past trauma and current battles with depression and anxiety, I am more intentional now. My daughter, Daja, developed PTSD after a near-death experience occurred when a tornado devastated our community leaving trees in and on our home. Since that time, she has experienced crippling fear that’s triggered by inclimate weather such as thunderstorms, hail, high winds, tornadoes, and hurricanes. After a few instances of being unable to soothe her anxieties, I tried different holistic approaches and in the end settled on therapeutic counseling because there was a real issue that exceeded what I could do as her mother. Many individuals in my family, including her father, objected to counseling and were even pissed when I agreed to allow the therapist to prescribe her a low dose of medication. However, I did what I felt was best for my daughter, and while her fear is still present, medication has helped reduce her anxiety tremendously.
Parents, our children are not okay, and they should not feel obligated to dilute their feelings to pretend they are — nor should their struggles be ignored. Children are experiencing many of the same fears we are concerning Covid-19; their lives have been turned upside down too. No school, no physical contact outside of their household, and no socializing all while bearing witness to our concerns can weigh heavy on the teen and adolescent mind. No, our kids don’t have to worry about paying bills while being furloughed but they are worried about our ability to do so.
I suffered until I was nearly 40 year’s old before receiving professional help for my childhood trauma. I dismissed obvious signs that I needed help and I can admit that counseling could have saved me in many situations. However, because our people have made mental and emotional health issues something to be embarrassed about, I suffered silently. Well, I thought I was suffering silently, but when I replay my past I can see that my sh-t show was on full display. The stigmas attached to mental and emotional health in the Black community are deadly. Our ignorance is claiming the lives of too many and it’s time to change the way we address our children’s mental and emotional health so that they don’t have to suffer the way we did– and far too many of us still are.