MENTAL HEALTH : YOUTH
the pandemic as kids have shouldered as many , if not more , changes to their routines as adults have . But children are also extremely impressionable , and can absorb everything around them — the good and the bad .
In what he called a “ youth mental health crisis ,” U . S . Surgeon General Vivek Murthy urged families in December to push aside the stigma that some associate with mental illness and seek help without delay .
Therapists say parents should treat mental illness as they would any other illness , and look for changes in patterns and behavior . The earlier the intervention , the better . Often parents wait to seek help until achild or young adult is in near crisis .
Consistency has not been something the pandemic has afforded anyone . As COVID metrics waned last May and June in New Jersey and many places in the U . S ., optimism was high that normalization was about to begin . But last summer , the delta variant spread rapidly , followed by the omicron variant in December , killing thousands . While most schools reopened to full-time , in-person learning , some had to temporarily shut down due to new outbreaks .
The biggest surprise for Galasso is that a lot of requests for therapy are now coming from teens . “ Pre-pandemic , it was almost always the parents who initiated it ,” he says .“ Now you have teens going up to mom and telling her they ’ re not doing well . Kids can ask for help and bounce back . But they need structure and consistency , and they haven ’ t had it for two years .”
Demand at New Bridge hospital wasn ’ t immediate among the young . The toll on mental health snowballed as the pandemic marched on , says Darian Eletto , Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health Services . “ A lot of kids started feeling the gravity of the situation that this may be the new normal ,” she says .
GETTING ALIFE BACK ON TRACK
When the pandemic first hit New Jersey in March 2020 , the change in the isolated 16-year-old Bergen girl ’ s life was abrupt , but not entirely unwelcome . Remote school was fun at first . She could get up late , never change out of her pajamas , and
HERE ARE SOME RESOURCES FOR GETTING HELP
■ The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline : ( 800 ) 273-8255
■ NJ Hope Line : ( 855 ) 654-6735
■ National Alliance on Mental Illness : Text “ NAMI ” to 741741 for 24 / 7 , confidential , free crisis counseling
■ ReachNJ : ( 844 ) 732-2465
■ NJ Connect for Recovery : ( 855 ) 652-3737
■ New Jersey Hope and Healing : ( 866 ) 202-4357
take a break in the middle of class by adjusting the camera .
But the fun waned as the pandemic worsened . Quarantine led to anxiety . Anxiety led to isolation . Isolation led to withdrawal .
“ It ’ s fun for the first month of no school , but then you ’ re stuck within four walls ,” her mom says . “ There is no space . Everything that you didn ’ t think you wanted to do , now you want to do . You actually want to go to school and you can ’ t .”
Marital trouble between the teen ’ s mom and dad helped push her into depression . The pandemic exacerbated it significantly , her mom says .“ The whole atmosphere in the house changed ,” she says .“ And she absorbed alot of it , with nowhere to go .”
When asemblance ofnormalcy returned last fall with most schools returning to full-time , in-person instruction , it was already too late for the teen . She refused to go to school most days . Sometimes she refused to get out of bed . Her grades plummeted . “ When your child stops speaking , stops smiling , stops enjoying the food she likes to eat , that ’ s a telltale sign that it ’ s out of your hands now ,” her mother says .
The gravity of the situation came crashing down in late 2021 with apanic attack at their Bergen County home . Her mother convinced her to go to the emergency room at Bergen New Bridge , which has an area for kids in a mental health crisis .
The teen was eventually placed in New Bridge ’ s new outpatient program , where children and their families meet with counselors three days a week after school for an average ofeight to 10 weeks .
She fought going at first , but her mom was persistent . The staff was welcoming ,
and she began making strides . She went back to school full time . Her grades have improved so much that her mom thinks she may make the honor roll . She ’ s not spending as much time in her room . And she ’ s actually looking forward to going to therapy .
Her mom is resting easier now . “ You have to know the change in your child and then don ’ t be scared to seek help ,” she says . ❖
26 2022 EDITION ( 201 ) HEALTH