The Youth Mental Health Crisis and How Parents Can Help

February 21, 2022

The Youth Mental Health Crisis and How Parents Can Help

An interview with Sherri Cauthen, LCSW, RPT-S

The pandemic has brought a wave of health professionals calling for action to address a mental health crisis among children, adolescents, and teenagers. An announcement by the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy read, “Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade. The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating.”

The announcement came soon after the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association all called for more public support for “The worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health.”

Georgia ranks 4th in prevalence of mental illness according to Mental Health America (MHA), a national nonprofit committed to promoting mental health. However, the State ranks last in the nation for access to mental healthcare. Although the numbers affected in Atlanta are unknown, the national statistics are striking when it comes to the mental health of our children, adolescents, and teenagers.

According to CDC Data:

  • Up to 1 in 5 American children, ages 3-17, has a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder
  • From 2009 to 2019, the share of high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students
  • Between 2007 and 2019, suicide rates among youth ages 10-24 increased by 57%

What Parents Can Do To Help

Sherri Cauthen, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist Supervisor at JF&CS, has seen the effects of this mental health crisis firsthand.

“I see mostly children under 12, and I’m seeing an increased anxiety in general, much more than before the pandemic,” she says. “In the adolescent and teenager range and even younger, we’re seeing more suicide ideation and suicide attempts — and the problem is lack of services. There is a minimal amount of hospital beds for adolescents and teens. If you’re in Atlanta, many families are forced to travel to a whole different part of the state to get a bed.”

She provides five preventative measures that parents can use to help build resiliency and coping skills in their children.

1. Validate Feelings and Understand Their Fears

“Talk about feelings. Have conversations and be as open with kids as possible. Try to help them deal with fears and uncertainty,” Sherri states.

This can be harder than it sounds. Parents may want to dismiss fears, especially if they seem irrational. But it’s more important to validate how that child feels.

“If you tell a kid there’s no monster in the closet, no matter what you say, the child is still going to believe there’s a monster in the closet.”

Instead, Sherri recommends, “Understand what’s behind that fear. And the best way to get over fears and anxiety is to face them.”

2. Be the Model for the Child

Modeling is one way in which behavior is learned: the child, adolescent, teen or even adult observes the behavior of another and then imitates that behavior.

“It needs to be developmentally appropriate,” says Sherri. “But a parent can say, ‘I’m also feeling this way, and these are the ways I deal with it’.”

“I’ve seen a lot of families in counseling that had to deal with adversity before the pandemic. So it wasn’t that big a shift for them. But for many families, they weren’t used to dealing with adversities. Now, they’re having to figure out how to deal with them.”

3. Don’t Shelter

Sometimes parents try to avoid any adversity for their child. It’s natural to want to protect our family, but it’s through experiences that we all learn.

“If a child doesn’t ever face difficulties, then they won’t understand or have the skills to deal with challenges when they happen," she says. "When they have trouble at school or at home, we can look at it as a chance to teach them. It’s just my opinion, but if we shelter kids, when they get older, they won’t know how to handle problems.”

4. Create a Coping Skills Box

When problems do arise and kids have trouble coping, Sherri recommends creating a “Coping Skills Box.” This is a kind of psychological first aid kit for kids with anxiety. It’s an actual physical container that holds items that calm kids down. The items depend on each child. If the child starts to feel anxiety or the start of a panic attack, they can pull out their kit and grab the tool they need.

“There may be a stress ball, or chewing gum, or a word puzzle, or a song list to sing in different situations,” says Sherri. “Fidget spinners and poppits are traditionally used for someone with ADHD but we’re seeing them used across the board now. Kids are really using those tools to deal with stressful situations.”

5. Seek Professional Assistance When Needed

Many times, a mental health professional can provide a child with therapy they can’t get anywhere else. In counseling, they can express themselves without fear of reprisal, judgement, or someone trying to “fix” them.

“I don’t try to solve their problems. I help them discover the issues that are behind their anxiety, depression, or panic attacks. I try not to give advice. I might help them realize where there are barriers and ways to increase resiliency,” says Sherri. “My job is to guide them and support them and to hold space for them when they’re going through difficult emotions. One of the challenges that we face is that difficult emotions make us uncomfortable, adults and kids. People jump quickly to solve the problem, so kids don’t have to experience those difficult emotions. That’s not helping those kids deal with them. Sometimes we have to experience those difficulties to learn how to get through them.”

With these five tips, parents can help their children learn how to deal with stressful situations and grow stronger mentally.

If you’re interested in seeing Sherri Cauthen or any one of our counselors, you can reach out by clicking here or email

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