Although it appeared that youth were spared the ravages of COVID-19, a full picture of their experience is only now emerging. Data released by the CDC a few weeks ago show that during the pandemic, a third (37%) of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health with 44% saying that they felt persistently sad or hopeless. In the same survey more than (55%) reported that they had been emotionally abused by a parent or other adult during shelter-in-place with 11% reporting that they had been physical abused.
While feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide were already high for youth prior to the pandemic, it’s gotten much worse. During the pandemic cases of depression and anxiety doubled among teens while overall mental health–related emergency department visits increased, 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17. Notably, emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts climbed to 51% for adolescent girls.
The mental health of youth has become so fragile that in December, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an urgent public health advisory to address the problem. Presidential advisory boards were also put in place with the same goal. These efforts resulted in a wide range of suggestions and ideas for how best to address the mental health crisis among youth, ranging from removing social and economic barriers on mental health to empowering youth to identify and manage difficult emotions and increasing timely data collection and research.
Missing from the list of possible interventions were efforts directed toward nature and outdoor activities even though there is evidence that reducing outside activities during the pandemic was linked to higher levels of emotional distress among youth. Such gaps in national recovery plans have prompted experts to call for more holistic and innovative approaches for addressing mental health in youth. Dr. Sam Goldstein, who specializes in treating youths with multiple, complicated mental health issues, posits that “maybe we need to think about systemwide intervention like we’re doing in physical health.” In a similar vein, researchers studying the positive link between nature and mental health suggest finding new ways to communicate the benefits of outdoor space.
The silver lining? It’s the data! The majority of research suggests that nature exposure during COVID-19 pandemic was associated with less depression, anxiety, stress, and more happiness and life satisfaction. We need to get this message out!
Check out the TTF “Cool School Programs” to see how we are working to ensure that “no child is left inside.” https://www.texastrees.org/projects/cool-schools/
Laura Oleniacz. How did less time around nature as a result of Covid-19 impact young people? World Economic Forum, Dec 4,2021.
Lois M Collins. The next teen epidemic. Desert News, Feb 16, 2022.
William Haseltine. Depression and anxiety double in youth compared to pre-pandemic. Forbes April 25, 2021.
Note: Insert photos from School Cool Program