U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued a public health advisory last week on what he called an alarming increase among young people reporting certain “mental health challenges,” a surge that was exacerbated by the pandemic.
Whitney Brammer, clinical psychologist for the division of adolescent and young adult medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, said it was reassuring to see the surgeon general’s warning to promote more awareness of this issue. “As a psychologist here at the Children’s Hospital,” Brammer said, “we’ve been seeing such a heightened need for behavioral health sufferers, especially with our teens and young adults.”
It’s important for parents, she said, to learn what warning signs to look for in their kids and how to reach out for additional support. Here are some suggestions offered by mental health experts.
David W. Bond, director of behavioral health for Blue Shield of California, cautioned parents against trying to diagnose their child by themselves or with the assistance of the internet. Nevertheless, some behavioral shifts can raise red flags that should prompt a parent to seek help.
Experts interviewed by The Times, including school social workers and counselors, listed a number of behavioral and emotional changes that, if sustained, could be a sign of a more serious problem:
- An increase in truancy, tardiness or resistance to going to school.
- A sharp change in focus or difficulty concentrating, a lack of motivation, or falling grades.
- Feeling anxious, sad or low all the time, or frequent mood swings.
- Withdrawing from friends.
- Indications of self-harm.
- Frequent nightmares and sleep disturbances, whether it be sleeping too much or not sleeping enough.
- Changes in eating habits.
- Sharp changes in social media habits.
- Peer conflict.
- Physical symptoms, including frequent headaches, stomach aches or body aches.
Alma Lopez, the school counselor coordinator at Livingston Unified School District and a counselor at Livingston Middle School, said the telltale signs in younger children tend to be changes in behavior, because they often can’t verbalize what they’re feeling yet. As kids age, she said, the emotional issues become more apparent.
When parents come to her for advice, she said, “I tell them, ‘You are the expert. You know your child…. If it doesn’t feel normal, let’s ask a few questions.”
Bond offered four questions to ask when trying to decipher whether a child is going through a typical adolescent issue or something more serious:
- When did it start?
- Was there an event or something that caused the change?
- What’s the frequency of the behavior?
- What’s the intensity of the behavior?
Bond said a child can feel stressed or sad from a breakup or a challenging test at school — that’s normal. But there may be a number of other forces layered on top of that, Bond said, including the pandemic, injustices, racial and cultural issues and LGBTQ-related stress.
It can be hard to discern between the normal and abnormal in a …….