BALTIMORE -- The mental health crisis is a growing epidemic. Students are experiencing depression and anxiety at growing rates.
The start of a new school year can bring up a lot of emotions and stressors for kids and teens.
Academic and social pressures combined with changing hormones and the developing brain can be difficult terrain to navigate.
That's why psychiatrists say a supportive environment is key to a child's well-being.
For example, 14-year-old Stella Shelkett has mixed emotions about starting high school in 2023.
"I'm definitely really nervous, but I'm also excited," she told WJZ.
"It is a very exciting time, but it also comes with its share of anxieties and stresses and self-doubt," Dr. Rishi Gautam, the chair of psychiatry at LifeBridge Health, said.
Gautam said that factors like social media and other pressures are causing teens to experience stress and anxiety at an alarming rate.
"One in six children—school-aged children—[are] experiencing some form of a diagnosable mental health condition," Gautam said. "If not treated on time it has very bad outcomes."
Gautam said it is important for parents to watch for signs that their children are struggling. Stress and anxiety in younger children may show up in the form of physical symptoms, such as stomach aches or headaches.
Meanwhile, teenagers will veer toward isolation, he said.
"Changes in sleep habits, changes in appetite, increased isolation, increased irritability, unexcused absences," Gautam said. "Signs of excessive stress might include some form of self-harm. You might notice unexplained scratches or cuts or some form of damage to their skin."
Gautam said that parents can help young students by fostering healthy coping mechanisms.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
- Have extracurricular activities or hobbies that involve engaging with other peers.
- Eat a healthy diet and exercising.
- Limit caffeine intake.
- Maintain a sleep schedule.
"Try to focus on the basics—taking care of yourself, trying to get a good night's sleep, trying to do the things that bring you joy and having peaceful spaces—and spending time together," Stella's mother, Monica Autenzio, said.
Stella gets stressed when she thinks about taking more difficult classes, juggling additional assignments, and navigating new people. She tries to manage that stress by staying organized and approaching the uncertainty of high school with a positive outlook.
"Hopefully make some new friends this year," she said. "If not, I'm really cool with the ones I have. But it's always good to introduce yourself to new people and put yourself out there."
Gautam said the most important thing a parent can do to help their children with their mental health problems is to be there.
"We encourage parents to create an environment where we validate what an adolescent is experiencing and help them work through some of that," he said.
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