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Gen Z, COVID, & Mental Health

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
The Truth Network Radio
January 18, 2022 11:13 am

Gen Z, COVID, & Mental Health

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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January 18, 2022 11:13 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs sits down with Dr. Jimmy Myers to discuss the critical issue of mental health struggles among our nation’s youth, a crisis which has been exacerbated by the nearly two-year long COVID-19 pandemic.

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MUSIC Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Over the past few years, we've heard that actions intended to keep Americans safer and healthier in regard to COVID may have actually had some negative mental health effects. That coming in the midst of a suicide rate that was already concerning in the years prior.

For example, here in North Carolina, the Department of Health and Human Services released data just this past November, which shows that North Carolina's suicide rate between 2015 and 2019 was more than double the homicide rate. Joining us to help examine what could be going on with mental health in our country is Dr. Jimmy Myers, founder and CEO of the Timothy Center, which offers Christian counseling to 21st century families. Dr. Myers is also author of several books, including Fearless Parenting, How to Raise Faithful Kids in a Secular Culture, which he co-authored with George Barna. Well, Dr. Jimmy Myers, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

Thank you so much for having me. Start off, if you would, give us an idea of the trajectory of mental health here in America before and now through the pandemic. Mental health, especially for those sort of under 21, it has been on a decline as far as good mental health, even before the pandemic.

And now it's just like you've juiced this problem with steroids and it has gotten exponentially worse. I think beforehand, again, especially those under 21, we really started to see this increase in loneliness and depression and anxiety. We saw these numbers rising in the late 2000s, 2010ish, around in there. And that increase coincides with the widespread use of high speed Internet and smartphones and social media, these type of things. And then when you add to that, what happened with the lockdown and almost looking for every reason in the world not to have kids go back to school in person, especially when they are at a population that are, for the most part, statistically not at risk.

So you saw that just make these matters so much worse. There's an article in The New York Times a few weeks ago and I wrote down this quote. It's from a principal from a school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and he was quoting his kids at his schoolies. He said, they're like the world's out of control.

So why should I be in control? I mean, when you have the pandemic lockdowns on top of what we were seeing increased loneliness and depression anyway, and then you have the isolation of home learning. In some ways, it's home not learning because of, you know, the precipitous grade drops in many, many, if not most students because of it. And then you have the riots, BLM and Antifa on January 6th. And then just wearing a mask and especially young children, the kind of anxiety that induces that I've got to wear this or I'm at serious risk. Other people around me that normally I'd be waving to and saying hi to, I've got to be afraid that they are going to hurt me with some invisible illness. The anxiety is just absolutely through the roof. And there are numerous studies that are showing that Gen Z is experiencing much more stress and anxiety than the rest of the population. When you put it all in perspective like that, I mean, it was a lot of stress for even those of us who are adults, right? So poor kids, they don't have anything to look, you know, no history to look back on necessarily to see that things could possibly get better.

So are there long term effects to this? Or do we think that it's going to even itself out after the pandemic dissipates at some point? None of this has happened before. So we don't know. This is this massive experiment where experts said this is what we must do in order to be safe.

And then we learned that about every six weeks, those absolute mandatory things changed. So we don't we don't know if forcing kids to wear masks, closing in person learning, you know, when you see kids outside on the playground and they're all wearing masks outside in the wind. And we don't we don't know what the law we know short term. It is jacked up their anxiety levels. Long term, we don't know.

I guess we're about to all find out. Well, let me ask you to speculate. So you spoke about experts. Do you think it could have an effect on this generation, especially the younger the kids that are younger now, their perception of authority going forward?

Of course. And it used to be you could get a degree in political science, but now all science is political. I don't know about you, but I now when I see that there's a study out saying something, you know, the first thing I do is look who did the study, because you can't necessarily trust what would be empirical studies. You can't trust what normally would be accepted experts in the field. There was a day you could trust the media not to just give a completely biased view of events.

And so, absolutely. I think there's going to be a doubt of authority in pretty much all different kinds of authority, because who is it that you trust? Do you have some recommendations for parents? Let's say specifically about the issues surrounding COVID. How do we talk to our kids, grandkids? Well, first, you know, kind of just a general rule of parenting is that parents set the emotional tone of the home. Therefore, if you are frightened, if you are very, very anxious about normal life activities, then so are your kids going to be. So, you know, one of our jobs is to normalize, you know, give a bigger perspective for our children, because as you mentioned earlier, they don't have that kind of history and perspective. But when you have a parent that every time some type of news program is on, they're watching it, and they're making comments to each other, you know, just about how horrible this is, and they're on Twitter, and they're on Instagram, and they're on whatever news feeds. And you see that the parent is really upset about it. The children are going to reflect that level of anxiety. Another thing you can do, especially for older teenagers, hopefully kids younger than teens are not going to be having this, but really drastically reduce their social media consumption and their gaming and these other isolating activities. Just stop it.

If you didn't really pay attention to how much time they were online before, we really need to pay attention now. Get them outside, force them outside into the sunlight with actual human social interaction through their church or through their sports teams. Get them outside, get them with other people. And then again, get help, talk to somebody. There's help in your community no matter what that is. And if a parent especially sees that a kid is struggling more than normal, you're seeing a really deviation from their normal behavior and thinking and feeling patterns.

Don't hesitate to let them go and talk with somebody. A lot of things from that sentence that I'd love to unpack, but let's talk a little more just about social media regarding COVID because I think if you talk to young people, they would say, well, I'm more connected than you. You know, I'm connected to so many different people. What is it about social media that is not connecting or maybe artificially connecting our kids and causing this feeling of isolation, do you think? The more interaction on social media, the higher levels of loneliness and perceived depression. So they think that they have friends, they think that they're socially connected, but to use your word, which I think is accurate, it is artificial. One thing we've learned from this whole social media thing is that we've always known that no man is an island, but we also now know that no man is Grand Central Station. We were not built for 24-7 social interaction.

We just weren't. All the bad things that come with that now are happening 24-7. There's this social media enmeshment. You know, when a kid hits their teen years, they got two jobs basically, form their own identities and seek their own independence. But now when that is just beginning in these young early adolescence, this constant social media use throws a wrench in that process. They become fixated on comparisons and those comparisons aren't real. They're trying to look like these influencers and these influencers don't look like that.

There's photoshopping. One of the most common cognitive distortions in psychology is something called feelings are not facts. Just because you feel a certain way doesn't make it true. But today we have our feelings, and again, this is what social media so influences, how we feel about something or how we perceive it.

Today, feelings supersede facts. A recent study, this is in 2021, showed that 40% of 18-24 year olds were claiming to be something other than heterosexual. And the LGBTQ community, since we crawled out of caves, has always been, you know, let's be generous and say around 3%. And today 40%, well that's not, that's no longer biological. There is a very strong social component to all of this.

And when it comes to social media, if your audience has not seen the Netflix film Social Dilemma, they really need to. Because they will learn that all devices, all gaming, all social media platforms have been designed to be addictive. And all other addictions, gambling and smoking and alcohol, all those have been restricted from kids. And yet we give kids unfettered access to these dopamine producing devices. I quoted at the beginning a really tragic quote about suicide in North Carolina.

Are you seeing this all working together? Is all of this part of what's causing kids to ultimately take their own lives? When you get anyone, you know, who has suicidal ideation, it's because they're feeling this immense pain. And with adolescents especially, a lot of times, not all the time, and you've got to take it extremely seriously, there's any verbalization or whatever of a suicide threat, you have to take it seriously. But with many adolescents, you know, they don't want to die as much as they want someone to understand how bad they're hurting. They want somebody to notice, which is why there's so many more attempted suicides or threats than there are actual suicides, especially in these younger kids.

And so when we have the isolation from at home learning and we're not going to movies anymore, I know you can't go to that because we've got to stay home. And all of that is forcing upon kids that are vulnerable population anyway into even deeper isolation. And so there's no one there to notice how bad they're feeling.

There's no one there to see what's going on with them. And so, again, it's just made what was already a problem with kids so much worse. You also mentioned for parents not to hesitate to get help if they're seeing some of these mental health issues, well, not only in their children but their spouse perhaps or a family member. Is there less of a stigma than there used to be about going to seek help for mental health issues, do you think?

Are people readily doing this these days? I think it's better, but oddly there is still less stigma to it. And I think that's especially true for anyone in your audience that may be in the faith community because we don't understand that depression, anxiety, it's a physiological malfunction of your body chemistry. But instead of it being a physiological malfunction in your blood sugar, which gives us diabetes, it's a chemical imbalance of your neurotransmitters in your brain.

But it is just a physiological malfunction. But because it impacts the way you think and feel, then people who, especially talking about Christians here, fear is the opposite of faith. I have that anxiety out the wazoo, so I must not have very much faith, and the joy of the Lord is my strength. Well, I don't have a lot of joy in the Lord or otherwise. And so within the faith community, there's something wrong with my faith if I just believed more, if I just prayed more, then this would go away. And yes, absolutely God can step in and miraculously intervene, but that's called a miracle and not Tuesday afternoon because that doesn't happen very often.

So we can't plan on it. I'm Dr. Jimmy Myers with the Timothy Center in Austin, Texas. Thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to this show online and to learn more about NC Families' work to inform, encourage, and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at ncfamily.org. That's ncfamily.org. Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-22 19:12:26 / 2023-06-22 19:18:01 / 6

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