Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth

With huge amounts of health, economic, social, and behavioral data now collected about the U.S. population, all derived from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and literally pouring into the hands of greedy medical researchers (an exceptional and unique situation that will surely continue for a few years to come), one thing is now abundantly clear…

There has not been a single case, not even one isolated or random case of anyone, young or old, U.S. citizen or otherwise, turning into a zombie.

Yes. A zombie. Not one

Hold on. Zombies? For real?

Yes, for real. If you are unsure of the threat posed by the living dead, the “corpus animatum,” and the flesh-eating undead, then… Where, oh, where have you been? Still unsure? Let me provide you with a few moments to check out the official “Zombie Preparedness” page on the official Centers for Disease Prevention & Control website. Yes, the actual CDC.

Seen it now? Good, now you know.

Futures in Waiting: Zombies, Mental Health and Other Emergencies

What began life as a tongue-in-cheek blog post written for the CDC, the Zombie Preparedness page has now become an excellent, popular channel for the national health organization’s myriad of information about the possible emergencies lying in wait for current and future generations.

Although the possible zombie threat is well-covered (there’s even a graphic novel to keep the kids engaged), there’s a distinct lack of information about the current health issues and dangers which do await our young people – from children to adolescents, and beyond.

Unlike zombies, these threats are not only very real, they are very possible, if not probable, and there’s a good chance your child may be at risk. In addition to newly-released reports on pre-corona youth data, here is really what the rich and multi-layered mountains of pure data – all derived from the pandemic, and its multiple effects – is now telling us.

Or, should we say, “warning us…”

Teenagers’ Mental Health Decreased Rapidly During Pandemic

The nation’s mental health has taken a significant battering during the last, corona-filled calendar year, with many people being forced to make unwanted, large-scale adjustments to their lives. Factors like unemployment and staff furloughs, businesses closures – some, sadly, for good – significant disruption to education, stay-at-home isolation and loneliness, have weakened the mental stability of many, and that includes our youth.

Although we were all aware of this potential mental health mini-crisis as 2020 slowly progressed, through regular updates provided by the CDC’s Household Pulse Surveys, we can now categorically confirm this has been the case for U.S. teenagers, too.

According to a “white paper” on “The Impact of COVID-19 on Pediatric Mental Health,” conducted and published by FAIR Health, a New York-based, independent, national nonprofit organization which provides consumer reports on healthcare, mental health services for teenagers (aged 13-18) accounted for a much greater proportion of all their medical claims than usual, particularly in March and April, 2020.

Using data derived and collated from over 32 billion private healthcare claim records from January to November 2020, compared to the same months in 2019, here are the main findings:

1. Overall Mental Health

During March and April 2020, mental health claims for individuals aged 13-18 approximately doubled over the same months in the previous year. However, looking at overall medical claims, including mental health, these decreased by approximately half.

This pattern of increased mental health and decreased overall medical continued all the way through to November, albeit at a diminishing rate. A similar pattern, though not as pronounced, was seen for those aged 19-22, too.

2. Intentional Self-Harm

Claims for intentional self-harm (as a percentage of all medical claims) in the same 13-18 age group increased 90.71% in March, 2020, compared to March 2019, and in April, the increase was higher – 99.83%. In the U.S. Northeast region, their increase was phenomenal – a 333.93% increase in intentional self-harm claims.

3. Overdoses & Substance Use Disorders (SUDs)

Claims for overdoses, for teenagers aged 13-18, increased 94.91% in March, and 119.31% in April, 2020. Additionally, claims for SUDs also increased – 64.64% in March, and 62.69% for April of last year.

4. Mental Health Disorders

Again for the age group 13-18, in April 2020, claims for generalized anxiety disorder increased 93.6% when compared in the same manner, claims for major depressive disorder claims increased 83.9%, adjustment disorder* claims rose 89.7%.

*Adjustment disorder is an emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event or change, with symptoms of both depression and anxiety.

Jess Shatkin, MD, MPH, of the Child Study Center, NYU Langone Medical Center in New York city, stated, “We know that teenagers already have high rates of mental illness. Now [with the pandemic], their parents are starting to struggle, with relationships, jobs, food security. It just ups the ante. We already see vulnerability, and this just makes them more vulnerable.”

Interestingly, in January, 2020, less than 2% of mental health services in the 13-18 age group were accessed via “telehealth”; however, by April, telehealth appointments had rapidly risen to 70% of all mental health care, and remained at that percentage right through to November.

Mental Health Disorder: An Open Door to Substance Abuse

As extensive pre-pandemic medical research has clearly demonstrated, mental health disorders actively result in a significant number of individuals, including children and teens, choosing to “self-medicate” themselves with legal and illegal substances.

However, it’s not just clinically diagnosed mental health disorders that can prompt this self-medication. Pandemic research data has shown that stress can result in direct attempts to cope using substances.

One particular study – “Psychological Factors Associated with Substance Use Initiation During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” conducted and published by the University of Houston – found the following results for people who had not used substances, ie. drugs and alcohol, previously:

  • 6.9% of participants started smoking cigarettes during the pandemic, while
  • 8.8% started drinking alcohol
  • 5.0% started using cannabis
  • 4.4% started using e-cigarettes
  • 5.6% started using stimulants, and
  • 5.6% started using opioids

Study co-author Michael J. Zvolensky, from the University of Houston, concluded, “COVID-19 specific mental health factors are related to starting to use substances during the pandemic… [This] sets in motion a future wave of mental health, addiction and worsening health problems in our society. It’s not going to go away, even with a vaccination, because the damage is already done. That’s why we’re going to see people with greater health problems struggling for generations.”

Opioid Abuse: Important Questions for Parents

1. Does your teenager smoke cigarettes?

2. Do they drink alcohol, too?

If so, another study that should prompt your concern – “Medical Use & Misuse of Psychoactive Prescription Medications among U.S. Youth and Young Adults,” published in the British Medical Journal, and based on pre-pandemic data (taken from from 2015–2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health) – found direct links between the abuse of opioid prescriptions, and youth and young adults aged 12-25 who were alcohol and tobacco users.

The analytical sample studied 110,556 completed surveys, with around half for youth, aged 12-17, and the other half for young adults, aged 18-25; it found:

  • Youth:
    • 20.9% of those who used one psychoactive prescription medication reported misuse, and
    • 46.1% of those who used more than one of these medications reported misuse
  • Young Adults:
    • 41% of those who used one psychoactive prescription medication reported misuse, and
    • 60.7% of those who used more than one of these medications reported misuse

Furthermore, the study highlighted one specific finding – that “having serious psychological distress [a diagnosed mental health disorder] was consistently associated with misuse of every assessed psychoactive prescription medication.”

3. Does your teenager use marijuana?

If so, then you need to be aware of another recently released study: “Cannabis Use and Risk of Prescription Opioid Use Disorder in the United states,” published in the respected American Journal of Psychiatry.

Study author, professor of clinical psychiatry Mark Olfson, at Columbia University, stated, “The idea that marijuana could help curb the opioid epidemic, which has received a fair amount of media attention based on population trends, struck me as clinically counterintuitive. I wanted to see if it held up when you follow a large number of adults who do and do not smoke marijuana.”

Researchers analyzed data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (43,093 U.S. adults conducted in 2001-2002), and follow-up interviews with 34,653 of the original participants 3 years later.

Prof. Olfson found clear evidence that marijuana use was linked to an increased risk of developing an opioid use disorder (OUD); his findings showed:

  • those who reported using marijuana at the beginning of the survey were more likely to have opioid use disorder 3 years later, and
  • those who used marijuana more often were more likely to develop an opioid use disorder

The Need for Exhaustive Social Support for Our Youth

However, although we seem to be living through a time with many problems and few solutions, it’s not all doom, gloom and salivating zombies dragging themselves over the horizon… One study, published December 4, 2020, we should be exceptionally thankful for, is actually derived from the data of individuals living not in the U.S., but in Canada.

The research study, entitled “Association of Social Support During Adolescence With Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Ideation in Young Adults,” identified perceived social support as a positive, protective factor against mental health problems among adolescents.

Using data extracted from the “Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development” – a population-based study of participants born between 1997 and 1998 in Quebec, Canada – researchers looked at the participant follow ups that occurred annually from age 5 months to age 20 to view the different trajectories of development.

Specifically, the participants’ perceived social support was assessed at age 19, and, at age 20, they were tested for clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder, and asked to report incidences of suicidal ideation or attempted suicide.

The difference in participant outcomes was stark, with greater perceived social support at 19 significantly associated with lower rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation at age 20 years. Additionally, these associations persisted even among participants with a history of mental illness.

Researchers concluded, “Emerging adulthood is a transitional life period marked by a high prevalence of [mental health problems (MHPs)]. This study provides evidence on the benefits associated with social support for MHP and suicide-related outcomes during this life-period, even in individuals who experienced MHPs in an earlier stage of development.”

What is Social Support & How Can Parents Help?

“Social support” is viewed as a vital element of healthy, solid relationships with family and friends, and strong psychological health – it’s an individual’s support network that they can rely on, and turn to in times of need, regardless of whether it is perceived or actual.

In fact, poor social support has been directly linked to depression, loneliness, altered brain function, and an increased risk of substance use and abuse, cardiovascular disease, depression, and suicide.

Social support can provide (i). emotional support, essential when an individual is stressed or lonely, (ii). instrumental support, a proactive form of support such as helping with tasks, and (iii). Informational support, which can provide guidance, advice, information, and even mentoring. Furthermore, it can encourage healthy choices and behaviors, teach coping mechanisms, and improve motivation – all vital for your mental health.

As parents, you can be the different type of support your child needs, and you are in the best position to help both facilitate and strengthen your child’s social support network.

By: Robert Castan
Title: Zombies and Other Future Threats to the Health of American Youth
Sourced From: www.thefix.com/zombies-and-other-future-threats-health-american-youth
Published Date: Mon, 22 Mar 2021 06:28:35 +0000

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