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Increase of pre-teens & early teens struggling with mental health, SSM doctor offers advice for parents

Published: May. 12, 2021 at 12:47 PM CDT|Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 6:22 PM CDT
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JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) - During National Mental Health Awareness Month an SSM pediatrician is shedding light on a growing issue nationally and locally.

Dr. Dan Beardmore says the amount of pre-teens and early teens dealing with mental health challenges, suicidal thoughts or self-harm has increased in recent years.

“In the data we’ve seen that that’s increased more in the middle school age range than anyone else, as opposed to more historically and traditionally in previous decades the young adults and teenagers,” said Dr. Beardmore.

While there are many factors that may play into this, he says social media is undoubtedly contributing to this trend.

“You can be bullied both in-person and virtually. You can 24/7 check up on how other people are doing, maybe even people you don’t know, and compare yourself and start to lead into self-esteem issues, self-image issues,” told Dr. Beardmore.

He recommends parents look out for signs of seclusion, if they aren’t as talkative as usual, or if they decline opportunities to see their friends or play.

“We also know that these devices have really effected the quality of sleep that kids are getting, the amount of exercise and outside time that they’re getting. We know with good evidence-based medicine that decrease sleep, decrease physical activity, decrease time outside effects our mental health as well,” explained Beardmore.

He says the first step for parents is not to be afraid to bring up concerns with their children directly and trust their gut instincts if they feel something is wrong.

“One of the things I like to say is that all kids need counseling, but maybe not every kid needs a counselor. A lot of kids want their parent figures to be the ones to help them through things and parents might feel ill-equipped, but really they can do it. They can help walk their kid through things.” If your child doesn’t want to open up to you or their behavior seems to worsen, seeking additional professional help like therapy is recommended.

“If there’s a long wait or it’s hard to get in or it’s a costly thing that maybe your insurance doesn’t cover, don’t forget your schools. School teachers and school counselors are often just waiting for these kids to come to them,” recommended Dr. Beardmore.

He also believes that older teens may have been one of the hardest hit groups by the pandemic in terms of mental health challenges.

“I think that the new data might come out and change that with the pandemic. Over the past years we’ve been seeing the younger ages. What we’ve experienced with this pandemic is that a lot of our school aged kids have been able to stay in school and the high schoolers have not and that’s really effected them. So, I think we’re going to see that age range broaden in our next sets of data,” explained Dr. Beardmore.

If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or you can text “HOPELINE” to 741741.

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