Rates of childhood mental illness and related concerns have been rising for years. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, adolescents were hit exceptionally hard. While major medical groups and institutions sounded the alarm about the growing crisis of mental health in our youth in 2021, research continues to show alarming trends. The CDC’s recent release of the “Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011–2021” highlights some of the most troubling findings.
From the survey, measures of youth mental health were all worse or unchanged. Broken down by gender, the levels are even more alarming for adolescent girls.
- 42% of youth have persistent sadness or hopelessness
- 29% experience poor mental health
- 22% seriously considered suicide
- 18% made a suicide plan
- 10% attempted suicide
These numbers represent an abject failure in our policies and approach to the mental health of our children. Part of the problem likely lies in psychiatry’s over-reliance on medications, especially since pharmaceuticals are well known to be poorly effective for mood problems in adolescents (Hetrick 2021).
The other half of the problem is likely due to a lack of any evaluation of the physiological causes or contributing factors to symptoms. Mental illness is complex, usually set off by a constellation of components that all contribute to an individual’s mental state. Nutritional deficiencies, toxicities, chronic infections, genetic factors, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, microbiota disruptions, and psychosocial issues can all play a role. Ignoring this underlying complexity and relying on just medication and counseling is missing a huge component of necessary care.
As a functional psychiatry practitioner for over 30 years, I have witnessed the benefits of a more comprehensive, integrative approach to treating youth and adult mental health. When I began my work, I knew there had to be a better way to help our children – a way to make a lasting difference that addresses the root cause of mental illness. Outcomes for my patients have been profound when evaluating for and treating nutritional deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, gut flora problems, toxicities, genetic defects, and other contributing factors.
The article below is a stark reminder that the mental health care system is failing our children. With such high rates of mental health conditions growing among children and teens, we desperately need more effective, functional medicine solutions. The time to act is now, and we need your help to transform mental health care. I implore you to share the message and movement of functional and metabolic psychiatry with your friends, family, PCPs, and care providers.
As mental health professionals, we can do better. Our children deserve better.
“Children and teens are trying to tell us, the world we have created for them does not work for them.That the world we have created, plus a global pandemic and so many other unaddressed crises in public life, does not work for them … or anyone.But because they are children, and because it is clear that we are not wise elders, but just flawed people stumbling in the dark, the way that this all plays out is that they are destroyed from the inside, and that explodes outward in a myriad of terrifying ways—suicide, self-harm, school avoidance, failure to launch, school shootings, and on and on and on.
We do not hear them clearly, and we keep not hearing them clearly. Instead, we stick to our old systems, which never worked and still don’t work. It is time to open our eyes and be open to new ways to address this crisis. Functional, integrative, and nutritional medicine belong as part of psychiatric treatment and care to help shift from symptom management to root cause care. Treatment needs to be tailored to the individual vs. the individual trying to fit into a standardized mental health plan. Once we open our eyes, we may better see a brighter horizon.“