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Mental health treatment through telemedicine helps, but patients with schizophrenia at D.C.’s McClendon Center miss face to face contact and routine.

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Kathryn Boit feels “guilty for struggling so much” these past few months. 

As the president of the Harvard Student Mental Health Liaisons, she has “college friends, acquaintances, and strangers reach out to me for resources and advice,” she said. “I don’t know the answers anymore.”

It’s no wonder Boit, a Harvard sophomore, feels overwhelmed. Prevalence of depression among college students increased since the pandemic caused the closure of campuses this spring compared to fall 2019, according to a survey of 18,000 college students published by the Healthy Minds Network on July 9. And of the nearly 42% of students who sought mental health care during the pandemic, 60% said it was either much more or somewhat more difficult to access care.

Mental health among young people has been worsening for years. A 2019 analysis of teens reported 13% of U.S. teens ages 12 to 17 (or 3.2 million) said in 2017 they had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, up from 8% (or 2 million) in 2007. 

Looking at the climbing data on anxiety yields even starker numbers. The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA asked incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed” by all they had to do. In 1985,18% replied yes. In 2000, that climbed to 28 percent. By 2016, to nearly 41%.

Roughly 48,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide in 2018, with the rate increasing 35% since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among ages 10 to 19, after accidents.

But the intersection of crises – COVID-19, economic woes and racial injustices – could make it worse still.

SCHOOL’S OUT: Parents fear for children’s mental health amid coronavirus pandemic

Teens need mental health support in quarantine, just as others do, said Jennifer Rothman, the National Alliance on Mental Illness senior manager of youth and young adult information, support and education. 

Call volume at NAMI’s HelpLine is up 65% compared to last year, she said, averaging more than 200 calls a day – and most calls ask for support with anxiety. 

Teenage requests are similar, Rothman said, “and especially with COVID-19, and the social isolation, the change in structure and day-to-day activities and routines, we’re seeing an increase in some of these symptoms” of anxiety and depression.

Class schedules and extracurriculars provided stability, said Boit, who has…