by Wayne Munchel, LCSW   1 Comment

New Study Suggests it Could be “Screen Time”

Youth Suicide Rates

A new study1 reports rising rates of distress, mood disorders and suicidal ideation among young adults aged 18 to 25 according to lead author, Jean Twenge, PhD.  Twenge and her team collected information from nearly 612,000 adolescents and adults who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which has provided an annual snapshot of substance abuse as well as data on mental health indicators among ages 12 and up since 1971. Alarmingly, the prevalence of major depressive episodes in the last year increased 63% among young adults between the years 2009 –2017 (from 8.1% to 13.2%).  And the rate of those same young adults contemplating suicide or acting on it surged 71 percent from 2008 to 2017.

What might be driving these disturbing trends? The usual culprits of an economic downturn and high unemployment don’t seem to apply, as this trend has occurred during a period of both economic and job growth.  Academic pressures similarly don’t appear to be contributing, as youth spend less time on homework on average than teens in the 1990’s.  The devastating opioid crisis seems more concentrated in adults 25 years and older. 

Professor Twenge sees these troubling trends as “generational issues”. She coined the label, “iGen”, to describe the generation of young adults born (after 1995) into the world of ever-present smartphones and digital media (includes social media, texting, gaming). While all age groups have undoubtedly been impacted by digital technology, Twenge’s studies indicate that the significant increases in mental health issues are exclusive to teens and young adults.

Twenge and her co-authors identify several worrisome impacts of the exponential growth in “screen-time’ for youth and young adults. According to studies, young people spend less time with friends and family. They get less sleep. As FaceBook time has gone up, face-to-face time has gone down.  Youth may be more vulnerable to the continuous stream of social comparisons and status checks, that gives them the impression of being less happy, less popular, less attractive and less LIKED. Some writers have referred to this age cohort as the “loneliest generation”.

What might be the implications of this research for TAY providers? Here are a few to consider;

  • Emphasize and facilitate more family-oriented supports and activities (no smartphones allowed!) Include and welcome family participation in TAY treatment plans. Families continue to play a vital role in supporting youth well into young adulthood and beyond. Don’t forget to explore how youth can better support their families.
  • Maximize opportunities for youth to meet, socialize and build relationships with peers, mentors, and other adult allies. If youth “graduate” from TAY programs with the same level of social support as when they started, we have not done our jobs well.
  • Educate youth about developing good sleep habits (more dream time, less screen time). 
  • Get out of the clinic and into the community. Finding and building bridges to places of belonging for youth, such as faith communities, community colleges and clubs is critical.
  • Continuously expose TAY to hobbies and collaborative efforts such as making music, political activism and community service. Help them to identify their passions and to pursue them.
  • Encourage youth and young adults on the smarter use of their smartphones. Set respectful boundaries on when and where the use of smartphones is appropriate. As Dr. Twenge puts it; “a tool that you use, not a tool that uses you”.

1.)Twenge, J. M., Cooper, A. B., Joiner, T. E., Duffy, M. E., & Binau, S. G. (2019). Age, period, and cohort trends in mood disorder indicators and suicide-related outcomes in a nationally representative dataset, 2005–2017. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

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by Stars Training Academy   0 Comments

Lorne teaching at Hot Spot

By Lorne Wood, Peer Training Specialist

 

One of the earliest memories is of my dad talking with some man at the front door to our apartment, and the man pulled out a knife and suddenly stabbed my dad in the side. My father lived, but the incident had an impact on me. My parents dealt Meth out of our LA County home and I’m pretty sure the guy who stabbed him was an irate customer.

I was about nine years old when I was taken away from my parents, along with my two brothers, and we were put into the Los Angeles foster care system. I eventually moved through about 14 foster homes in the next seven years. Despite this, I fondly recall a fair amount of my childhood after that. I did well in school, had extremely high-test scores, and even got accepted to the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program.

I received a lot of therapy throughout those years, and over the past six years, I have had the amazing opportunity to work in behavioral health in capacities that encourage me to use that experience in a positive way. Now, I work as a Peer Training Specialist for the Stars Training Academy, and I get to travel the United States training mental health professionals in a youth-oriented evidenced-supported practice (the Transition to Independence Process (TIP) Model) and sharing my perspective and insights as a consumer.

So as a person with “lived experience” myself, I want to share what I think Peer Support Specialists bring to the table. The simplest answer is that they provide hope. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that one of the key beliefs that made it hard for me to deal with my depression when I was younger was the belief that I was alone in my depression, that there was something wrong with me and I was different than those around me. Being able to dispel this belief is, in my opinion, one of the most important aspects of being a peer. Peers are living proof that there’s a point in having hope.

One of the parts about being a youth peer that I find most fascinating is the innate ability to place yourself in that person’s shoes and understand why they are responding to their circumstances and events in their life the way that they are. For example, I’ve found that while I don’t always have the answers for someone, it is still very easy for me to understand and empathize with them when they are isolating, ditching school, smoking weed, etc. This is in part because they are handling their struggles in a way very similar to how I handled mine. Some might say that you can never truly understand someone else’s struggles or emotions. I believe that if you can make that person feel heard and not judged, if you can be empathic without trying to fix them, then they may feel understood.

What else do peers do?

Bond Over Interests

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Because many peers are the same age group as the people they work with, it makes sense that we would have similar interests. I worked with a peer who used to wear a lot of clothes with his favorite sports teams on them knowing that it was something that would start a conversation. I spent a fair amount of time bonding with the youth by playing video games and guitar, because that was always a promising way to build rapport.

Bridging the Gap

It’s common to see people who are reluctant to engage in therapy even if they are engaged in peer services. Peers can help with this by asking youth they have strong rapport with if they would be willing to talk with their therapist more. I’ve found that if I have that rapport and if I can tell them I understand how talking to a therapist might be stressful for them, they are usually willing to at least give it a try.

Empathy and Understanding

While this isn’t exclusive to peers, it is worth noting that they often have the first-hand experience that makes it easier to relate and validate someone’s struggles.

By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it should paint a picture of why peers are important in mental health and should be valued like other mental health professionals.

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