I was listening to a podcast yesterday while driving to and from the post office with my Frango client gifts. I didn’t hear all of it, but what I did hear was disturbing. Our youth are in a mental health crisis. One in five contemplate suicide. Suicide is skyrocketing. Mental health has reached a crisis level and there is a shortage of mental health care professionals.
The podcast was quoting from a recent Washington Post article. (I’m not a subscriber so I looked for other free resources online.)
New research shows the number of teens with suicidal thoughts were already rapidly growing before the pandemic’s mental health impact.
The number of 5 to 19-year-olds who were hospitalized with suicidal thoughts jumped almost 60% between fall 2019 to fall 2020.
“We need to really start thinking about the root of it all and looking at how we can prevent and intervene a lot sooner for our youth,” said Dr. Brewer.
When I was growing up, I didn’t hear much about mental health or suicidal thoughts in youth. I’m sure it was happening, but not talked about. But I’m also sure it wasn’t at crisis proportions that it is today.
What do you believe the cause is? What has changed from decades ago to today that affects mental health? Was it isolation due to COVID? Is it isolation due to smart phones? Is it bullying online? What other causes? Please discuss.
Saturday marks the first birthday that my daughter’s college teammate isn’t alive to celebrate. He committed suicide in December 2021. His birthday was July 2. He would have turned 25.
My heart hurts for all those who lost this amazing young man, including my daughter. I cannot imagine how his mom is able to get through this “holiday weekend.” He was especially close to his sister and she posted a loving story with photos on Instagram that I read and burst into tears.
We became close to the family at swim meets while our kids were in high school. We often sat with them at college dual meets and the PAC 12 championships.
I think many people left behind carry guilt. “If only I would have called.” “If only I could have let him know how much he meant to me.”
From the UCLA Health website:
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people age 15 to 24 in the U.S. Nearly 20% of high school students report serious thoughts of suicide and 9% have made an attempt to take their lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Recent weeks have brought heartbreaking examples of this trend, including the March 1 death of Stanford soccer captain Katie Meyer, 22; and Ohio State football player Harry Miller’s revelations that he attempted suicide, shared his struggles with his coach and got help. Miller announced his medical retirement from football on March 10 in a Twitter post that’s been shared more than 10,000 times.
“This is not an issue reserved for the far and away,” wrote Miller. “It is in our homes. It is in our conversations. It is in the people we love.”
I found a helpful article in the Wall Street Journal which was exactly what the doctor ordered. Called “Stressed? Worn Down? Its Time to Be Your Own Life Coach” by Elizabeth Bernstein. Here’s an excerpt:
You can’t always count on friends or family members for support. During tough times, you can learn to coach yourself.
Ever wish you had someone in your corner 24/7—cheering you on, picking you up when you’re down, helping you set goals and deal with life’s challenges?
Better look in the mirror.
It’s time to become your own life coach. You can’t always count on friends or family members for constant support—especially now, when everyone seems buffeted by uncertainty. Professional coaches (and therapists) can provide valuable help, but they’re pricey, aren’t typically on call at all hours, and established ones may be hard to book.
The ability to mentally coach yourself is particularly important now, as we head into another unexpectedly hard season. The appearance of a new Covid-19 variant—just when we thought the pandemic was lifting!—has thrown many of us back into the stress of fear and uncertainty. It has arrived just in time for the holidays, which can be a lonely or bittersweet time for many, especially those who are grieving.
“You need to be your own best friend,” says Lo Myrick, a mind-set coach and business consultant based in Charlotte, N.C. “You need to take responsibility for yourself.”
Research in a concept that psychologists call self-determination shows that having the ability to draw on internal resources, such self-regulation or self-compassion, during tough times is essential to our well-being and performance. We’re strongest and most stable when we’re motivated from within, have control over our decision-making and time, and feel a sense of purpose.
I’ve also noticed that when I’m feeling sad, Olive the cat is right by my side. She’s been exceptionally affectionate lately. She must know we’ve grieving and she’s doing her best to make my husband and I feel better.
I’m also looking forward to Christmas with my children and friends. I can’t wait to give then all a big hug.
What are your thoughts on being your own life coach? Isn’t that the same as being resilient?
When our daughter calls me upset, my reaction is to try and tell her that it’s not that bad. That things will improve and maybe there’s a silver lining. My desire is to make her happier, to make her pain go away.
After reading an article in the Wall Street Journal called Toxic Positivity Is Very Real, and Very Annoyingby Elizabeth Bernstein, I understood why my daughter gets upset when I try to cheer her up. I never heard the term “Toxic Positivity” before, but it’s what I do. The article gives a ton of examples of well-meaning parents and friends making someone with an issue feel worse. Here are a few paragraphs from the story:
Forcing ourselves or others to always be positive can be harmful to our well-being and our relationships. There’s a better approach.
Pushing away difficult emotions, such as sadness or fear, and forcing ourselves or others to be positive can be harmful to our mental well-being and our relationships, psychologists say. This is because practicing false cheerfulness—which they call “toxic positivity”—keeps us from addressing our feelings, and the feelings of others.
Yes, cultivating a positive mindset is a powerful coping mechanism, especially in tough times. But positivity needs to be rooted in reality for it to be healthy and helpful.
“Toxic positivity is positivity given in the wrong way, in the wrong dose, at the wrong time,” says David Kessler, a grief expert and the author of six books about grief, including his latest, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.”
It sounds like this: “Cheer up!” “Don’t worry!” “Stop focusing on the negative!” “Try to have a better attitude!”
We’re all guilty of it. Many of us were taught as children to banish so-called bad feelings—to pick ourselves up when we fall, stop complaining and count our blessings. And our fix-it-fast culture reinforces the message that to be positive is to succeed. (Just consider the phrase “winning attitude.”)
Often, we go overboard on positivity because we just don’t want to feel bad. And we don’t want the people we care about to feel bad, either.
My daughter told me that when I say “look on the bright side,” I don’t find her feelings to be valid. What she wants from me — and there are many examples of this in the article with other parents and children — is to listen to how she feels.
I’m sure my glass-half-full outlook is based on my childhood emotional issues, like my parents fighting or divorcing. In other words, I covered up my feelings and fears with a veneer of a positive attitude that was like hiding under the covers, which I did every night.
My last kernel of truth for today:
“It’s not our job to solve problems for our children, but it is our job to listen and love them.” — E.A. Wickham
Have you heard of toxic positivity? What are your thoughts about it?
Do you have someone in your life that uses it, or have you used it yourself with family members and friends?
The post I wrote yesterday about how our brains are being flooded with dopamine and how social media and screens are negatively affecting our health, reminded me of a blog post I wrote a few years ago about how the high tech geniuses in the Silicon Valley won’t allow their children to have any screen time at all. Zero. They obviously know something they aren’t telling the rest of us.
Here’s what I wrote about Silicon Valley parents a few years ago:
Talk about hypocrites. I read the strangest story about parents who live in the Silicon Valley. They refuse to let their kids see or touch iPhones or any screens of any nature. These are parents who work in the high tech world and themselves use the devices. While they are at work, they hire nannies to shield their kids from the heinous devices they work to create.
Then to even go further, they make nannies sign contracts that they will keep them away from screens. They also hire spies to snoop on their nannies at parks to make sure they don’t cheat and check their phones. Maybe it’s because they understand how miserable the phones are making their lives, that they want to keep their kids’ lives free from tech. Or maybe they know something we don’t about how unhealthy these screens are.
Here are a few excerpts from the article I read in sfgate called Silicon Valley Nannies are Phone Police for Kids:
SAN FRANCISCO — Silicon Valley parents are increasingly obsessed with keeping their children away from screens. Even a little screen time can be so deeply addictive, some parents believe, that it’s best if a child neither touches nor sees any of these glittering rectangles. These particular parents, after all, deeply understand their allure.
But it’s very hard for a working adult in the 21st century to live at home without looking at a phone. And so, as with many aspirations and ideals, it’s easier to hire someone to do this.
Enter the Silicon Valley nanny, who each day returns to the time before screens.
“Usually a day consists of me being allowed to take them to the park, introduce them to card games,” Jordin Altmann, 24, a nanny in San Jose, said of her charges. “Board games are huge.”
“Almost every parent I work for is very strong about the child not having any technical experience at all,” Altmann said. “In the last two years, it’s become a very big deal.”
From Cupertino to San Francisco, a growing consensus has emerged that screen time is bad for kids. It follows that these parents are now asking nannies to keep phones, tablets, computers and TVs off and hidden at all times. Some are even producing no-phone contracts, which guarantee zero unauthorized screen exposure, for their nannies to sign.
The fear of screens has reached the level of panic in Silicon Valley. Vigilantes now post photos to parenting message boards of possible nannies using cellphones near children. Which is to say, the very people building these glowing hyper-stimulating portals have become increasingly terrified of them. And it has put their nannies in a strange position.
“In the last year everything has changed,” said Shannon Zimmerman, a nanny in San Jose who works for families that ban screen time. “Parents are now much more aware of the tech they’re giving their kids. Now it’s like, ‘Oh no, reel it back, reel it back.’ Now the parents will say ‘No screen time at all.’”
The bright side is these parents do care about their kids. They want what is best for them. I wonder if they use their electronics while they are at home? Do they put away the iphones at dinner? Do the parents realize that their kids will model their behavior and learn most from what they do, not what they say?
Do you think the Silicon Valley parents have known all along how dangerous and addictive screen time is? Or, is it a personal choice not to let their kids on screens? Are they wanting their kids to have the idealized life before computers?Do you or did you limit screen time for your kids?
I was interviewed by a journalist last week for a survey about the state of American families. She reads my blog and interviewed me for a story a few years ago about parents hiring coaches to improve their parenting. You can read her article called Why some parents — including Prince Harry and his wife — are hiring parenting coachesHERE.
Last week, she asked me about major problems facing families today. I mentioned the rising costs to raise a family and also worries about the digital world, screen time and depression. I’ve read so many articles about how social media and screen time is causing depression and anxiety in our kids. The numbers are skyrocketing. Add that to the pandemic and kids literally had a year of isolation and not being with their peers.
Immediately after the interview, I ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal called: Digital Addictions Are Drowning Us in Dopamine. The article gives a scientific explanation for what is happening to our brains. I found it fascinating and thought I’d share it with you, too.
Here’s an excerpt:
Rising rates of depression and anxiety in wealthy countries like the U.S. may be a result of our brains getting hooked on the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure
—Dr. Lembke is a psychiatrist and professor at Stanford University. This essay is adapted from her new book “Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence,” which will be published on Aug. 24 by Dutton.
A patient of mine, a bright and thoughtful young man in his early 20s, came to see me for debilitating anxiety and depression. He had dropped out of college and was living with his parents. He was vaguely contemplating suicide. He was also playing videogames most of every day and late into every night.
Twenty years ago the first thing I would have done for a patient like this was prescribe an antidepressant. Today I recommended something altogether different: a dopamine fast. I suggested that he abstain from all screens, including videogames, for one month.
Over the course of my career as a psychiatrist, I have seen more and more patients who suffer from depression and anxiety, including otherwise healthy young people with loving families, elite education and relative wealth. Their problem isn’t trauma, social dislocation or poverty. It’s too much dopamine, a chemical produced in the brain that functions as a neurotransmitter, associated with feelings of pleasure and reward.
The article helped me understand the physical issues with screens that are affecting us — as much as the emotional problems with feeling left out, bullied, comparing yourself to the make-believe social media world. Although these issues with mental health affect mostly young people, I’m sure it’s not limited to their generation entirely.
To answer my own question, “Is it time for a digital detox?” I say yes. I’m trying to find little ways each day to put down the phone or other media and do something healthy. Whether it’s sitting outside listening and watching birds, or taking time to stretch, there are ways to make it a better day and improve mental health.
Here’s another excerpt:
As soon as dopamine is released, the brain adapts to it by reducing or “downregulating” the number of dopamine receptors that are stimulated. This causes the brain to level out by tipping to the side of pain, which is why pleasure is usually followed by a feeling of hangover or comedown. If we can wait long enough, that feeling passes and neutrality is restored. But there’s a natural tendency to counteract it by going back to the source of pleasure for another dose.
If we keep up this pattern for hours every day, over weeks or months, the brain’s set-point for pleasure changes. Now we need to keep playing games, not to feel pleasure but just to feel normal. As soon as we stop, we experience the universal symptoms of withdrawal from any addictive substance: anxiety, irritability, insomnia, dysphoria and mental preoccupation with using, otherwise known as craving.
What do you view as the major issues facing families today?
What are your thoughts about the physical and chemical changes in the brain causing an addiction to social media, screens, video games, etc.? Have you heard about this before or is it a new concept to you?
How much time do you spend on social media like facebook, pinterest or other news sites?
I read an interesting article today about Instagram and teen girls called “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Internal Documents Show.” Written by Georgia Wells, Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharama for the Wall Street Journal, the article says that social media may become the youth generation’s tobacco companies.
“Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” the researchers said in a March 2020 slide presentation posted to Facebook’s internal message board, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.”
“We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” said one slide from 2019, summarizing research about teen girls who experience the issues.
“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” said another slide. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”
Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.
Isn’t this scary? I feel like someone’s unleashed Godzilla on the world. What will we know 10 or 20 years from now? Hopefully, we will move beyond social media and get back to in person interaction. I think if I were a parent of younger kids today, I wouldn’t let my kids have a smart phone, but stick with the flip phones or dumb phones. I didn’t get my kids smart phones until they were in high school.
Another thing I found troubling with this article is that Facebook has done internal studies for several years and they know Instagram has issues at its core. But they downplay them to the public. Our congress and senate have asked for Facebook’s studies and they do not comply with the requests.
Here’s more from the article:
In public, Facebook has consistently played down the app’s negative effects on teens, and hasn’t made its research public or available to academics or lawmakers who have asked for it.
“The research that we’ve seen is that using social apps to connect with other people can have positive mental-health benefits,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a congressional hearing in March 2021 when asked about children and mental health.
The features that Instagram identifies as most harmful to teens appear to be at the platform’s core.
The tendency to share only the best moments, a pressure to look perfect and an addictive product can send teens spiraling toward eating disorders, an unhealthy sense of their own bodies and depression, March 2020 internal research states. It warns that the Explore page, which serves users photos and videos curated by an algorithm, can send users deep into content that can be harmful.
“Aspects of Instagram exacerbate each other to create a perfect storm,” the research states.
What are your thoughts about Instagram and other social media? Do you spend much time with it? Do your kids or grandkids? Do you notice a change in how they feel after they use social media? I find I’m using it less and less.