Youth Mental Health: Extending Grace In a Pandemic
In today’s society we are learning just how important mental health is in terms of understanding and caring for our youth. When we think in terms of how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of our youth, there are numerous factors to consider. As a result of the pandemic, critical staffing shortages have impacted Child Protective Service agencies across the U.S. leaving children and adolescents in dire need for social workers and mental health counselors, resulting in children involved in the foster care systems left without the appropriate care and services they need. In fact, in the state of Kentucky alone, Child Protective Services reported that approximately 650 caseworkers resigned between January 2021 and September of 2021 with the number continuing to grow. In addition, the historical closure of schools across the U.S. resulted in many youth who rely on meals from the schools without basic nutrition, isolation from peers, and isolation from teachers who are often the first to report signs of abuse or recognize that a family is in need of services. Moreover, with youth requiring online access for school and youth having a heavier online presence, when left unsupervised, predators have greater and easier access to them due to their vulnerability.
The latter supports the United Nations COVID19 Brief (2020), which identifies youth as the biggest victims of the COVID19 pandemic. The brief also maintains that for some youth the impact may be life long. Equally important, the brief maintains that the negative impact is not equally distributed in that youth who live in poor countries, poor communities, and are economically disadvantaged and vulnerable are likely to experience more severe consequences (United Nations Policy Brief, 2020).
Youth mental health is also impacted by the exposure to loss or grief resulting from the death of a family member who had COVID. Research also indicates that when children and adolescents themselves are diagnosed with COVID19, this can trigger episodes of depression and mood instability. The consequences of the COVID19 pandemic has been further complicated by the opioid epidemic which continues to claim the lives of individuals from all ethnicities across the U.S. especially in the homes of youth where one or more of the adults suffer from an addiction to opioids.
Webster defines graces as disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency. It is a temporary exemption or reprieve. This is important when we consider human behavior among our youth. We all learn by making mistakes but with so many other issues compounding the lives of our youth, the least we can do is give them grace. Grace in understanding their roller coaster of emotions, grace when not being able to focus in school because basic needs in the home are not being met, grace when addressing out of control behavior because the youth has issues with unresolved trauma and dysfunction prevails in the home. The Youth are the Future, Our future. So let's be intentional in giving them grace especially in their most difficult moments.