Autumn De La Cruz, a 19-year-old worker at a grocery store from Northern Virginia, was in sixth grade when she learned the gravity of mental health challenges among people her age. A close friend felt like he had no control over his home and school life and nothing — including speaking with teachers — did much to help.
Over the next few months she noticed his humour grow darker and informed a teacher she was concerned, but was met with an unhelpful response. A few days later, her friend took a handful of pills and died by suicide.
“One of the things we know for all youth is that social media is an issue [for mental health challenges],” Dr. Alfiee Breland-Noble, psychologist and founder of mental health non-profit the AAKOMA Project, told Re:Set. “It’s not the only issue. But it’s a big issue.”
Without calculating time spent online for homework, American teenagers spend nearly nine hours online, on an average. However, post the pandemic, UNICEF recorded an “unprecedented rise” in the screentime of children and teenagers.
“Long exposure to social media leads to FOMO, comparing themselves to their peers, access to distressing news from all over the world, cyberbullying — all of these contribute to the mental health crisis,” Breland-Noble said.
A specific anxiety and stress related to and caused by Trump and his policies has been christened as the ‘Trump Anxiety Disorder.’
In addition to social media, there are other causes that have contributed to this mental health crisis, especially for people of colour. Research shows that Donald Trump’s election has been especially detrimental for the mental health of some young people from marginalized backgrounds. This specific anxiety and stress related to and caused by Trump and his policies has been christened as the ‘Trump Anxiety Disorder.’
“There has always been racism in America but since the Trump Administration, it’s more bold and pronounced.” Miana Bryant, founder of mental health non-profit The Mental Elephant, told Re:Set. As a young Black woman and mental health activist, Bryant added that she has had to put on a “brave face” in light of the racially charged atmosphere and police brutality against the Black community. In the week following George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police in May, over 40% of Black Americans recorded symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
Last year, a task force released a report to Congress outlining the mental health of Black youth in the country. The report shows that while there is a general increase in the suicide death rate among young people, it is increasing among Black Americans more rapidly than any other race.
Between 1997 and 2017, there has been a 73% increase in suicide attempts by Black adolescents. Despite this, fewer Black youth seek and utilize mental health care. A combination of reasons — including racial disparities in health care, very few Black mental health care professionals and stigma within and outside the community — have led to this.
Breland-Noble, a member of this working group, said “One of the recommendations [of the report] was increasing the numbers of mental health providers, through schools, communities and health centres so that kids could have increased access to mental health care.”
Additionally, eco-anxiety — a term defined by American Psychological Association as “a chronic fear of environmental doom” in 2017 — has been a cause of concern among America’s young people. A national survey from last year shows that over half of American teens feel “afraid” of climate change, while 43% of them feel “hopeless.”
The COVID-19 pandemic — which has already claimed the lives of over 268,000 Americans — has escalated mental health challenges — with half of those aged between 18 and 29 experiencing higher rates of symptoms of anxiety and depression disorders.
As a queer woman of colour, the discrimination De La Cruz faces significantly impact her mental health.
“I feel like most of the time I am putting aside my mental health just to help the people around me,” she said. As an essential worker over the course of the pandemic, she has been constantly worried about falling ill or infecting others like her mother who is recovering from surgery. Due to her family’s financial situation, she works two jobs and cannot afford to stay home.
This is the America Joe Biden is going to inherit.
His mental health policy promises several measures to tackle this crisis, including greater insurance coverage, doubling the number of mental health professionals in schools and expanded funding for mental health services.
“I think what was missing was a specific focus on youth of colour.”
“I think it’s powerful that he pulled from his foundation and talked about LGBTQ youth [with regard to their mental health],” Breland-Noble said. “I think what was missing was a specific focus on youth of colour.”
She added that for children of colour, there is an urgent need for culturally competent mental health professionals who are multilingual with an understanding of diverse backgrounds and understand the intricacies of navigating a racialized America.
Bryant hopes the new administration will bring conversations on mental health to the dining table and reduce the stigma around it.
“It has been a difficult and dramatic election and year. I hope there will be a push for money to go into mental health resources across the country, especially post the pandemic.”