Pandemic years have hit teens hard, especially in DuPage County. But there is reason for hope. – Chicago Tribune
Rarely has an entire population of young people collectively suffered from what is known as an adverse childhood experience, or ACE, a traumatic event with potentially lasting effects on mental and physical health.
It is safe to say that the COVID-19 pandemic is the latest negative experience of many people, following historic events such as the September 11 attacks, the Great Depression, and both world wars. Typically, ACEs are experienced individually or within families, such as B. Domestic violence, neglect and parents who divorce, die or abuse drugs.
While the immediate effects of such experiences can be sudden, traumatic, and disruptive, the more far-reaching effects are less well known and are slowly becoming apparent. Many adults cite ACEs as the cause of personal and lifelong challenges.
More recently, COVID-19 has led to a rise in depression, anxiety, and suicide and attempted suicide, disrupting normal child development and overwhelming mental health providers. The rate of depression among DuPage County youth prior to the pandemic was already twice the national average of 15.7% for youth, as reported in the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
The 2021 data from the DuPage County Crisis Text Line illustrates the seriousness and breadth of people’s concerns. The themes reported in 573 interviews and by 278 copywriters were anxiety/stress (38.3%), depression/sadness (30.7%), relationships (30.7%), suicide (27.2%), isolation/loneliness (15.2%) and self-harm (12.9%).
However, the DuPage County Prevention Leadership Team found hopeful signs in the results of its 2021 COVID-19 Teen Impact Survey. While more than half of the 158 middle and high school students who responded said the pandemic had negatively impacted their mental health, others did say they have found ways to deal with it and have good support systems. The Prevention Leadership Team, an extension of the DuPage County Health Department, is a coalition of community leaders from various sectors working to prevent drug use and promote the mental well-being of youth ages 18 and younger in DuPage County.
Another encouraging note: According to survey results, the pandemic has not necessarily impacted substance use among youth, although this finding may be skewed. Local shelter and social distancing likely reduced access to alcohol and drugs, as well as friends and the propensity to drink together — at least for a time.
While drug use among young people in DuPage County has declined since 2014, both drug use and mental health remain of concern. Data collected from the 2020 Illinois Youth Survey for DuPage County shows the following:
• 36% of high school seniors reported having consumed alcohol in the past 30 days.
• 19% of seniors reported using marijuana in the past 30 days.
• 18% of seniors reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days.
• 2% of seniors reported using prescription drugs not prescribed for them in the last 30 days.
• 28% of eighth graders, 33% of second graders, and 31% of seniors said they felt depressed in the past year. Nationwide, 17% of teens reported feeling depressed, according to the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
In addition, we must not lose sight of the long-term implications that are yet to emerge and the importance of proactive care. Of particular concern is the strong association between substance use and mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than half of people who have a mental disorder also have a co-occurring substance use problem, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, some disorders become more easily inflamed once they begin, such as depression and bipolar disorder. If it reoccurs, there’s a chance that a substance use problem is also developing, even if it wasn’t initially. We should be aware of this and judge it when it is appropriate.
As our lives settle into a new normal, we should be aware and prepare for negative experiences that will inevitably affect our youth. That’s part of life. Let’s hope the next adverse event doesn’t have the magnitude of COVID-19 and is decades – if not eons – away.
Sarah Breithaupt is a clinical consultant and a member of the DuPage County Prevention Leadership Team.
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