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And you know what's sad? I can write this today and know with certainty it will become timely again and again.
And while politicians and talking heads will yell at one another about this issue, I have my own take on it. As a mother and therapist to families and adolescents. I have my own perspective on what is happening here.
We have a mental health crisis in the country. We are failing ourselves and our young people.
Let me lay this out for you. Your brain is an organ.
Your organs are biological.
They are susceptible to disease.
They are injured by trauma.
They are affected by your health.
Your brain (the thing that runs your decisions, your feelings, your moods, your actions) is a flesh and blood organ that is made better or worse by your life choices. Just like your heart.
Here's the difference. If your heart stops beating it only hurts you and those you love. If your brain stops working you can become deadly.
In my professional opinion- this is not about video games. It is not about a justified rage. It is not about bullying. It is about mental illness. Pure and simple. How do I know?
- Do you watch movies or play games with violent actions in them?
- Do you feel rejected by others sometimes?
- Did you ever feel bullied or unliked by peers?
- Are people ever mean to you?
- Do you write manifestos and go on killing sprees?
See my point?
We have a mental health epidemic. We prescribe more and more psychotropic medication every year. Last statistic I read placed parents at about 1/5 that are currently on some form of mood medication. We are not well. And we are raising our kids to be unwell.
If I had a magic wand here's what I would do.
1. Move back school start times to 9:30 am for adolescents (read latest research on how circadian rhythyms and sleep deprivation affect adolescents. It is frightening). This is proven to lower the incidence of depression and school dropouts significantly within one year's time.
2. Create health classes in school that educate young people on the following:
How sleep affects your body
How technology affects your body
How light exposure affects mood and circadian rhythms
How nutrition affects the brain
What are the warning signs of depression, anxiety and psychosis?
3. Staff every high school with mental health professionals. (I'm not talking about guidance counselors. I am talking about licensed mental health providers who have constant access to kids.) Give them the authority to
Screen every kid every year for mental health issues
Jointly work with the teen's family support to address mental health issues.
See a teen regularly who is going through mental health issues.
Pull any child at any time that they feel is in crisis, without academic repercussions.
Make referrals and fast-track kids they feel are in crisis
4. Only give a teen antidepressants if they will see a mental health provider at least 2x a week for at least 8 weeks following the new prescription. (Read up on antidepressant use in teens and its ridiculously high rate of suicide and manic behavior. Teen bodies don't respond like adults do).
5. Structure school activities so that teens see sunlight before noon every day to regulate their circadian rhythms and lower incidence of mood disorders.
6. Structure school activities so that teens are moving their bodies every day, outdoors if possible for the same reason.
I would be willing to bet that if a school were willing and able to make these changes, their risk of a school shooting from a student would be almost nil.
We are unwell. We are not addressing our unwellness.
We think adolescents are meant to be depressed, exhausted, and unwell. This is NOT TRUE. Research proves that it is not true.
We accept sickness because we don't know what health looks like.
And we accept sickness because we have removed power from anyone who knows how to diagnose a mental health crisis.
I could see a person in my office, be certain that they are danger to themselves or society, but if they are not an imminent threat with an identifiable target... I have no power. Zero. Nothing can be done. They will go back out into the world without a tether. And when they finally do act out, there will be people looking to cast blame. But where can it rest? There is no one to speak for the mentally ill. We have erred on the side of their autonomy because we don't want to make the mistakes of our past. But is this better? The mentally ill make up the majority of our homeless population. The mass shootings are done by the mentally ill. Is this better?
I don't believe it is.
The truth is, this can be changed. But this isn't sexy. It doesn't sound good in clips. It isn't going to be yelled by a talking head. So the necessary changes are ignored.
We have advocates for heart health and against the obesity epidemic. And that's important. Please don't misunderstand me. But if your heart fails or you are overweight- you hurt only yourself and those who love you. Mental illness affects us all. But we are silent about it. That has to change.
PS- If you're new here, I'm a therapist in Roseville, CA
PPS- If you liked this post about teens, try this one.
PPPS- If you like posts about technology and mental health try this one or this one.