71.5 F
Sunday, May 28, 2023

It’s All About the Children

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, a time where we not only raise awareness around the mental and behavioral health of adults and children, but also attempt to reduce the stigma that prevents far too many from openly discussing the very experiences that are hurting – and in some instances – killing us.

While I’m no psychologist, I know that I am not alone in acknowledging that our mental health was tremendously impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. From the immediate lockdown that caused us to be kept away from many of the things that were so much a part of our daily lives, like going to school, work, church and other outlets, but we were all forced to face some very scary realities as we lost loved ones to the virus or at the very least, knew someone who lost a loved one during those dark days, weeks and months.

We know that many people are still coping with the aftereffects of COVID-19. Maybe not physically, but definitely mentally. According to a 2022 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 37 percent of high school students interviewed experienced poor mental health during the pandemic and 44 percent said they often felt sad or hopeless.  

Additionally, the study shared very troubling details about the struggles teens endured. More than 55 percent reported experiencing emotional abuse – swearing, insulting or putting down – from a parent or another adult in their household. A smaller number  – 11 percent – shared that they were physically abused by an adult in the home, including hitting, beating, or kicking. And nearly 30 percent of teens participating in the study reported a parent or adult in their home having lost a job during the pandemic. The economic uncertainty many of us faced during the pandemic combined with the sheer fear of possibly testing positive for COVID clearly created a heightened level of anxiety among adults and some, unfortunately, may have taken that anxiety out on the teens, adolescents and babies in their households.

So, fast forward to today and many wonder why young people, across the nation and particularly here, may be acting out. I am in no way excusing poor or criminal behavior, but I am being realistic. Our babies are hurting. For almost a year, they were kept out of school buildings and forced to stay in their homes as efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 were implemented. And when their schools reopened, there was a new normal that required wearing face masks, social distancing and limited or drastically changed requirements for many of the activities they enjoyed. I know that Baltimore City Public Schools’ leadership has gone above and beyond to provide the mental health resources our children need, but I also know that those resources are limited as City Schools determines the best way to address these unprecedented challenges.

If we’re honest, mental health challenges have plagued our youth well before COVID. I think back to when I first joined City Council and started a mentoring program for youth awaiting trials in adult court for serious offenses. I can’t help but wonder how different their lives would have been if the obvious mental and emotional struggles they endured had been dealt with before they found themselves in the justice system.

As Memorial Day approaches and Baltimore’s youth curfew goes into effect, let us remain even more diligent about taking care of our young people, being committed to helping them access productive ways to spend summer break. If you know of businesses that need extra support, encourage them to consider offering a job to a Baltimore teen. If you know of educational camps that can help reduce the brain drain that occurs during summer months, share information with a young person who may benefit from such an opportunity. I’m not suggesting that these types of activities will stop the issues plaguing our city, but I do believe that our young people need to know that we care about them and that we want what’s best for them. Earlier this month, I was honored to welcome members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. to City Hall. The room was full of women dressed in red and ready to get down to business, challenging elected leaders to work with them and others to develop ways to combat youth violence. 

Public safety challenges won’t be settled overnight. But, I do believe that if we take into consideration the emotional trauma that young people have suffered since March 2020 and collectively work to embrace rather than accuse them, perhaps we’ll see incremental change. But if nothing else, let us consider supporting the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) #MoreThanEnough campaign where we come together and remember the inherent value we all hold. And if you or someone you know may be in need of support, contact NAMI by calling 800-950-6264 or texting “HelpLine” to 62640.

Have any thoughts about this column or issues impacting Baltimoreans? Email me at [email protected] 

Click Here to See More posts by this Author

Related Articles

Get in Touch


Latest Posts