Our Nation’s Mental Health Crisis Is Getting Worse – Opinion

We should note that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 24 hours a days if you have suicidal thoughts or someone close to you.


Before I get started on today’s column, a bit of personal background I’ve shared before.

I woke up on September 11, 2001, only to find out I’d lost my grandmother. She was not at New York, Pentagon or on any hijacked flight. She was alone in her own home with only her thoughts and a gun.

Before that, though I knew what suicide was and how it affected me, this topic had not been something I really felt. It was eighth grade when my life was completely changed.

If someone close to you decides to make such a difficult decision, expect overwhelming sadness. What people don’t tell you about suicide is that you’ll also feel a wave of tremendous anger at the selfishness of the person. They would do such a thing to you! Couldn’t they realize what they were inflicting on their friends and family?

They could leave you like this!

I learned to forgive. They realize they don’t have control over their lives and must let go of that feeling. Depression is a mental illness. It doesn’t lead to rational choices. At times it is an uncontrollable emotion agony. They want it all to end.

In later years of my life I was able to recognize the symptoms of depression within myself. These symptoms are especially apparent on weekends. My family, teaching job, daily radio program, writing, and my day job make it difficult for me to think clearly. However, I find that things are slower on weekends and those negative thoughts can creep in, just waiting to drag me down.

Thankfully, I’ve never had suicidal thoughts or any tendencies toward self-harm. My grandmother is the reason. I don’t ever want my family to experience that loss.

In the United States, though, the numbers are on the rise, and we’re not seeing it isolated to any one group in particular.

In college athletics, there’s a string of high-profile female athlete suicides. Katie Meyer, a Stanford soccer player. In Wisconsin, there’s track star, Sarah Shulze. Lauren Burnett is a softball pitcher at James Madison University.

The military has sailors who are on the USS George WashingtonFollowing a series suicides in the crew, the passengers were evacuated from the aircraft carrier.

In the world of education, we’re definitely seeing teen depression, self-harm, and suicide is on the rise. More people are being admitted to hospital for mental disorders. This is an alarming and very sad trend.

There’s a piece in Atlantic recently that breaks down a lot of what we’re seeing among teens.

The government survey of almost 8,000 high-school students, which was conducted in the first six months of 2021, found a great deal of variation in mental health among different groups. A quarter of all girls stated that they considered suicide in the wake of the pandemic. That’s twice as many than the percentage for boys. Nearly 50% of LGBTQ teenagers said that they considered suicide in the wake of the pandemic. This compares to just 14 percent among their heterosexual counterparts. The rate of suicide among teens in white seems to have increased faster than any other group.

But the big picture is the same across all categories: Almost every measure of mental health is getting worse, for every teenage demographic, and it’s happening all across the country. Since 2009, sadness and hopelessness have increased for every race; for straight teens and gay teens; for teens who say they’ve never had sex and for those who say they’ve had sex with males and/or females; for students in each year of high school; and for teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

We blame the pandemic for a large part of these problems. For over a year, our children were left at home and isolated. They also suffered from a lack of emotional, intellectual and social development. Some kids went back to school later than others. However, the outcomes were similar for most. The pandemic was more severe than isolation on students.

However, the recent pandemic has only intensified an already grave problem. Actually, the origins of our current mental health crisis might be 2012 (as Atlantic‘s writer points out) we first saw 50 percent or more of Americans owning a smartphone and social media began its explosive rise to dominance.

Social media isn’t like rat poison, which is toxic to almost everyone. It’s more like alcohol: a mildly addictive substance that can enhance social situations but can also lead to dependency and depression among a minority of users.

Instagram is close to this conclusion. The company’s internal research from 2020 found that, while most users had a positive relationship with the app, one-third of teen girls said “Instagram made them feel worse,” even though these girls “feel unable to stop themselves” from logging on. And if you don’t believe a company owned by Facebook, believe a big new study from Cambridge University, in which researchers looked at 84,000 people of all ages and found that social media was strongly associated with worse mental health during certain sensitive life periods, including for girls ages 11 to 13.

How could social media have such an impact on teenage mental health? The reason is simple: Teens and teenage girls are extremely sensitive to judgements from their peers, teachers, as well as the internet crowd. As I’ve written, social media seems to hijack this keen peer sensitivity and drive obsessive thinking about body image and popularity. The problem isn’t just that social media fuels anxiety but also that—as we’ll see—it makes it harder for today’s young people to cope with the pressures of growing up.

Our girls are being told by social media how to act and look. Armchair psychologists are telling our kids “You don’t fit in a predefined box. You’re different. You’re not male/female. You’re special. The world is out to get you because of it.” Kids are identifying as trans, gender fluid, etc. They are identifying as trans and gender fluid at an insanely high rate than ever. This is partly because they have spent more time at home on TikTok than going out to meet friends.

But it’s not just teens. Adults are more isolated than ever. We are more connected than ever when it comes to our phones, but when it comes to in-person interaction, we’d rather sit in silence at the dinner table, texting each other, than actually talking.

The most fundamental lesson in society has been lost: To come together and share our food with others. The political divide has played a major role in this — we are constantly looking at those who think differently than us and pushing them away rather than coming together. It happens on both sides (though there are many studies showing that progressives have less chance of having conservative friends than vice versa), which leads to more fracture.

Intuitively, humans are social beings. Social interaction is what we seek. That’s how we grow, develop, and even (god forbid) come up with new ideas or change our minds. But we’ve given up in-person interaction, which requires more emotional connection and empathy, for the cold, lifeless interactions through digital screens.

The mental health crisis we are facing is reaching a critical point. We need to heal, but we’re actively rejecting healing in favor of more division.


I also spent two segments covering the topic on my radio station. Today’s column is based on those segments. You can listen to yesterday’s show on your preferred podcast platform (Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or Amazon) or check out the abridged version below.

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