Plain Talk: Youth mental health is in crisis

Plain Talk: Youth mental health is in crisis

Photo by Mary Pahlke/Pixabay

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Every newspaper, every news channel, no matter what their politics are talking about the serious concerns around the mental health of the young people in our country.

The mental health of our youth is on the verge of becoming, if it has not already, a national health epidemic!

Social media is out of control. The pandemic has not helped this national crisis. Candidly, it has intensified it. So, what do we do? First, we need to destigmatize any kind of mental health and substance use disorders. We have to have the courage to act bravely to provide competent, cost-effective treatment services for mental health and addictive health.

Telehealth is a great resource but is already overbooked and is geared more to working with the middle/upper class. They have waiting lists that are endless. Private practice is overloaded as well. The clinics of yesteryear who are capable of reaching out to the underserved need to be resurrected and properly staffed.

Our local hospitals need additional funds to build on the excellent services that already exist but do not meet the epidemic need. Mental health must become a priority; too many young people are toying with suicide. Most don’t want to die they just want the pain and anguish to stop.

Too often that pain is intensified due to our social media platforms, which can be unbearable triggers for those who are already struggling with self-esteem and self-worth. We need to challenge our schools to be more effective in teaching better coping skills and also creating more safe places where students can go and talk without fear of judgment, shame, and guilt.

Most school districts should consider increasing their social work staff. If they don’t have any social workers on their staff, they should consider hiring competent social workers with plans to better serve our children who are at risk. We need more of a collaborative effort between mental health staff faculty, administrators and support staff. This kind of collaboration really does make a difference.

TJ was 16; he was shy to begin with. The pandemic made him even more self-conscious and shy. His only outlet was social media. When given the freedom to go out, he stayed in and spent his life on social media. He was a good student, a good young man at home. No one really knew how addicted he had become to social media. He had joined a growing number of invisible young people who are in so much pain and are so closed that they are falling between the cracks.

We need to stop talking and need to think outside the box. We need to demand funding that will allow us to create life-giving opportunities for all of our young people to build their self-worth, their self-confidence and their self-value so that they will know they really matter and can make a difference that counts!

Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.