I’ve worked as a child #psychiatrist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego for the past decade. During that time, we’ve seen emergency visits for #behavioralhealth needs increase by a factor of 17.
By BENJAMIN MAXWELL
Maxwell, M.D., is medical director of inpatient psychiatry and interim director of #child and #adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. He lives in Kearny Mesa.
I’ve worked as a child #psychiatrist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego for the past decade. During that time, we’ve seen emergency visits for #behavioralhealth needs increase by a factor of 17. The number of #patients we once saw in a month, we now might see in a day.
The #pandemic and #socialdistancing pushed the crisis even further. Las Vegas #school administrators note a direct correlation between #school closings and #teensuicide. New York City is seeing increased #police interventions for emotionally distressed #children. All this news leads people to wonder, “What’s going on here? It wasn’t like this when I was a kid!” And they’re right. Most communities in #America are witnessing troubling statistics involving the #mentalhealth of our #children.
We can’t end our analysis there, simply stating facts and shaking our heads. Rather, we must explore things going on in the world that seem to be underpinning the challenges #kids are facing, and most importantly, determine what we can do about it.
To start, we need to identify what’s driving increased #anxiety, #depression and #suicide — the #behavioralhealth challenges that have become most common in #kids and #teens. Bob Dylan had it right in 1964, and it still applies today: “The times they are a-changin’.” Many aspects of modern life continue moving in a positive direction, but we also need to focus on two negative trends I believe to be key factors in the ongoing #mentalhealthcrisis: social disconnection and the decline of intrinsic motivation.
Even before the #pandemic, people were engaging in group activities less and less, making the ties that bind us together more brittle than ever before. Individuals are also becoming less intrinsically motivated, or focused on doing things for their own enjoyment or personal growth.
On the other hand, extrinsic motivation — doing things for an external reward such as image or popularity — is on the rise. It’s well-known that intrinsic motivation is linked to long-lasting contentment, satisfaction and a more positive self-image. Extrinsic motivation is far less rewarding — fame is fleeting! In a world of #socialmedia and smartphones, these two elements catch many #children in a feedback loop that can be difficult to escape.
So where does that leave us? Image and popularity are prioritized while honesty, helpfulness and compassion are lost in the hustle. We’re now living amid what is likely the most disconnected and extrinsically motivated population ever. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, this is not who we are as humans. We’ve evolved to be social beings who care about the group, and to establish relationships built on reciprocity and trust. When a #child struggles to deal with a digital-driven, disconnected society, should we be surprised?
I believe we can find a better way. We’ve all been told to minimize our screen time. The problem is, few of us are actually doing it! #Parents can focus on cultivating alternative activities for their #children, from having a picnic with friends to going on a walk as a family to volunteering together. The key is finding something to engage your #children without their phones.
If you can make some headway on finding more enriching activities, you can start working to increase your child’s autonomy, mastery of a task or connection to a group — the three main drivers of intrinsic motivation. An added benefit is that by modeling these behaviors, #adults will be better able to confront their own technology addictions.
Although we’ve always faced challenges as a species, our ancestors taught us the importance of hope and optimism. It’s what drove their search for fire, and their ingenuity to build tools that would support a well-fed group. Through their shared determination, they got us to where we are today. At our core, although wary of every threat, I believe we’ve evolved to be hopeful.
As I contemplate how we can overcome some of the obstacles above, I think, “What if schools and health systems identified kids who were struggling early? What if technology started to consider what makes us unique, and to connect us more meaningfully? What if we could give new parents more effective approaches than an iPad to occupy their #children?”
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
I’m fortunately not alone in my thoughts, and these “what ifs” are translating into action. It will just take time, innovation and putting our heads together for a better tomorrow — but at the end of the day, I’m still an optimist for our kids and our society.