Dr. John Duffy, author of Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety, wrote an enlightening blog post on how we all need to approach emotional and mental health this year.
I woke up the Monday before Christmas to the alarming news of two suicides in my area in the past 48 hours, one a high school student, and one a dad. Three family crisis calls awaited me on voice mail as well, kids and parents who reached a tipping point of emotional difficulties reaching out.
And finally, the New York Times ran a piece about the dearth of mental health resources in China, especially the pandemic-heavy Wuhan province. The Chinese government, it appears, is scrambling to meet the onslaught of emotional needs of its more-than-a-billion population, the luxury of stigma no longer available to them.
And I’ve been thinking all morning about what the message is here.
I’ve written in this space that myself and my colleagues have never been busier. Every practice of every competent therapist is bursting in 2020, and the trend continues. Whereas a year ago I thought universities and professional schools were cranking out far more therapists than necessary, I suddenly now feel as if we are not even close to serving current needs. Turns out, like China, we can no longer afford the luxury of stigma either.
So what do we do?
Well, to my thinking, it’s time to stop dancing gingerly around the issue, suggesting gently the markers that indicate professional help, and act far more assertively on behalf of emotional health.
Instead, we need to be protecting time daily in grade schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges to focus on mental and emotional well-being. Courses in emotional intelligence and self-care should be as mandatory as English, History and Math.
It is time.
Years ago, a colleague of mine and I visited schools to press the teaching of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). We were all but laughed out of schools, teachers informing us of their already-full plates. They didn’t have a moment to spare during the school day for anything so superfluous. And the metrics by which they were assessed didn’t include any such measures.
That was clearly not the time.
But if 2020 offers a gift of any kind, and I get that I’m reaching here, it’s highlighting the need for better tending to our mental health.
Now it is time.
So, taking advantage of the moment, and perhaps pressing my luck a bit, we should also get our children, ALL of them, into therapy early, before they run into crisis. It should be an ordinary part of their weekly or bi-weekly self-care. At the least, our kids can know school counselors, social workers, and therapists well enough to reach out to a known professional when they feel as if they may need help getting through a difficult day, or social situation, or class.
Kids should know, from early ages, ways to manage anxiety and depression, attention issues and hopelessness. They should have a bead on their emotional strengths every bit as much as, if not more so, than their relative weaknesses. They should learn the degree to which they are both competent and resilient.
There are many factors influencing them on the other side, after all. The labels of mental illness are sticky for our kids, and in vogue to an alarming degree. Online groups allow for an identity around mental illness, and kids often play de facto therapists for one another during crises, a development with potentially lethal consequences.
Teaching and normalizing emotional self-care would help to mitigate some of these issues. I suspect our suicide rates would drop precipitously and quickly, as well as diagnoses and medicinal treatment of mental and emotional conditions.
Of course, our children are not the only ones who need self-care. I have worked this year with adults who have reached emotional breaking points as well, medicated and hospitalized and participating in ongoing treatment. Not only do we need to model self-care, but it is an important gift we can give ourselves, and perhaps the most critical life skill we will ever learn.
The time is now. Let’s take advantage of the moment, and tackle the issue of emotional wellness head-on. It’s the best that can come out of a dismal year.
2021 promises to be brighter in most every way. But let’s not miss this urgent message from 2020. Let’s make emotional well-being a priority from this point on.
A Complete Guide to Your Child’s Stressed, Depressed, Expanded, Amazing Adolescence
Learn about the “New Teen” and how to adjust your parenting approach. Kids are growing up with nearly unlimited access to social media and the internet, and unprecedented academic, social, and familial stressors. Starting as early as eight years old, children are exposed to information, thought, and emotion that they are developmentally unprepared to process. As a result, saving the typical “teen parenting” strategies for thirteen-year-olds is now years too late.