The Child & Youth Mental Health Epidemic

Healing Complex SystemsMaybe we all have a reason to be here.

If I have a mission for my time on earth, it’s about healing.

Supporting the healing capacity of complex systems~.

That’s what I’m attempting with this blog. It’s what I try to do in my personal life. And it’s the primary emphasis of my career.

In my work, I coordinate a Collective Impact initiative called the Child & Youth Health Network.

A principal concern of all our partners in that initiative, across sectors & cultures, is the current mental health epidemic among children and youth.

We are hearing from our school district partners that our schools are overwhelmed, starting in Kindergarten.

Anxiety and depression rates are increasing. As are diagnoses of ADHD, autism and behavioral disorders.

Our kids are suffering.

We know from our government and non-profit organizations, as well as from youth and parents, that mental health services are insufficient and outdated. And the waitlists for those services are ridiculously long.

Youth who struggle with metal health issues have told us that the current mental health system is like Mordor. As in: “Even if you can get in, you’re still screwed”.

Even if you can get in...

Some data on youth mental health from my corner of the planet:

  • Among Southern Vancouver Island youth who attended secondary schools in 2013, 8% of males and 15% of females seriously thought about killing themselves in the past year (that’s over 1 in 10). And 4% of males and 7% of females reported attempting suicide in the past year.
  • In 2013, 8% of males and 22% of females who attended secondary schools on Southern Vancouver Island also reported cutting or intentionally injuring themselves in the past year.
  • Rates of problematic mental health for youth who are not engaged in secondary school are even higher, as often it is mental health issues, compounded with other risk factors, that result in disengagement from the education system. For example, 68% of homeless and street-involved youth in British Columbia (62% of males & 72% of females) reported having at least one specific mental health condition in 2015.

As I have Collective Impact conversations with diverse cross-sectoral partners who genuinely want to figure out how to reverse this alarming trend, I have to decide (over and over again) how much I am going to share about what I understand about the origin of this epidemic.

About the origin of illness.

Because saying that the Canada Food Guide is part of the problem is still considered a fringe perspective. Not supported by evidence.

The paradigm is changing, but it hasn’t shifted sufficiently yet to enable us to consider some of the primary contributing factors to this serious population-level health problem. Doctors are still dismissive of the role of diet in health.

So instead, we all get together and talk earnestly about better arrangements for the deck chairs on the Titanic. As the saying goes.

Even though we are coming together because we all acknowledge that such a serious health problem is going to require that we work together in innovative ways and try new approaches.

The Healing CapacityI know the system isn’t ready until it’s ready.

I know that because I have devoted my life to system-level work.

Supporting the healing capacity of complex systems.

It’s my thing~.

I know that I can influence systems by nurturing the conditions that will lead to a tipping point, but no one can force a system to do anything it isn’t ready to do. Or, more accurately, the resources required to try to instigate that kind of change make those efforts extremely wasteful and low leverage.

The Complex Origins of Mental Health Issues

I know, from experience, that mental health issues have complex origins.

I have worked with children, youth and families who live with conditions of complex risk for over 20 years. And I struggled with depression and anxiety for over 30 years, from the time I was 10 until a few years ago.

I still need to stick very close to my optimization protocol to be emotionally and spiritually well.

I know that my own mental health is impacted by a combination of:

  1. My personal history of connection and trauma (& the way my brain is wired as a result);
  2. My biological health;
  3. My spiritual health; &
  4. Epigenetic factors: the impacts of my experiences and my environment on the way my genes express themselves.

As is yours.

Through my own n=1 experiments I am working to address these four factors.

In my experience, it is the elements of the Microbiome Protocol that have had the most profound impact on my mental health, specifically through an intentional return to ancestral patterns of living, combined with continual monitoring of my well-being through biohacking methodologies.

I can’t say that out loud in my work.

Very often.

But I feel tremendous urgency.

Because I know that our young people are suffering. Really suffering. Right now.

And the impacts of the origin of the mental health epidemic become harder to reverse as time goes on.

beach youthWhen these children and youth become adults, how many of them will continue to struggle with their mental health?

How many will develop autoimmune conditions?

Because it seems that the origin of these illnesses, in many cases, is the same.

I believe the health of our young people is a pretty good indicator of the health of our society.

How much of this epidemic is preventable?

And when can we talk about it?

4 thoughts on “The Child & Youth Mental Health Epidemic

  1. Thank you, Petra. And when will the youth be willing to listen? That’s another part of the problem: it’s so hard for the affected kids to fly in the face of their peer culture, or the culture in general. It takes tremendous strength and energy and they are already over-extended just trying to get through the day.

    1. I find that youth are extremely receptive to listening when they feel like there is reciprocity and adults are willing to do things differently. I work with youth who live with complex risk and are disengaged from school and society, but they deeply crave connection. When they are given the opportunity to trust adults and be heard, everything changes~. As you mention, it is hard to be counter-cultural (anyone who has tried the AIP knows that~!) and many youth and completely overwhelmed just trying to make it through each day. They need out support. Thanks for your comment, Alice~.

  2. Thank you for shedding light on an often overlooked problem Petra.

    I feel your frustration in changing the paradigm to focus on diet, lifestyle and mindset intervention. What reassures me is that lasting change occurs slowly, and slowly but surely people are making lasting changes in their diet, lifestyle and mindset in increasing numbers.

    PS – love the LoTR reference!

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