Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted its annual National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey. Using data collected from 300 emergency rooms nationwide as the sample, researchers found that the number of children between the ages of 5 and 18 diagnosed with suicidal ideation or suicide attempts has in fact doubled since 2007. The study, which was published in JAMA Pediatrics, reported that in 2007 the number of diagnoses of either condition stood at 580,000. By 2015 the number doubled, increasing to 1.2 million. The average age of the child diagnosed with either suicidal ideation or suicide attempts was 13 years old. A staggering 43% of children visiting the Emergency Room due to thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts were between the ages of 5 and 11. One could argue that this dramatic and devastating increase in numbers is indicative of the pressures of hunger and poverty, cyberbullying, and the overall consequences of United States domestic policy..
According to www.feedingamerica.org, 1 in 6 children living in the United States don’t know where they will get their next meal. Their website states that when kids are hungry they are more likely to have social and behavioral problems. They are also more likely to be hospitalized, and have in increased risk of developing health conditions such as anemia and asthma. While this challenge alone is one that no child should have to face, many kids are also going to terribly underfunded public schools that aren’t serving as the sanctuary from these challenges like they should.
Schools in many communities are ill-equipped to deal with how stressors such as poverty and hunger are affecting their children. According to an article published by cbpp.org, 29 states are still providing funding that spends less per student than they were in 2008. The proposed budget of the Trump administration would do little to help. In a time when public schools are already struggling astronomically to meet the needs of their students, the Trump administration suggested cutting the funding of the Department of Education by 7.1 billion dollars, or roughly 10% of their current budget. The Washington Post has reported that Trump’s proposed budget would also cut the funding to the Department of Heath and Human Services by 12%. When thinking of children and mental health, we must ask ourselves what budget cuts such as these would do to the resources available to our children that are already stretched too thin.
Existing within impoverished homes, neighborhoods, and schools both in urban and rural communities has consistently proven to be an incredibly stressful environment that makes it much more difficult for many kids to live up to their full potential. The CDC reports that 1 in 5 children living below 100% of the poverty level had a developmental, behavioral, or mental disorder. According an article published by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, poverty is linked not only to childhood depression but changes resulting in weaker brain connectivity as well. Using MRI scans, researchers found that the connections between the brain’s hippocampus and amygdala were weaker based on the degree of poverty that the child was living in.
Aside from the intersecting disadvantages of poverty, the declining mental health of children could also be attributed to the increasing access to cell phones, tablets, and computers. With the increasing access to devices, cyberbullying has become a growing concern. A study conducted by JAMA pediatrics found that cyberbullying leads to substance abuse as well as mental health issues in adolescents. Another study conducted by the JAMA pediatrics found that suicidal ideation and attempts to cyberbullying victimization among both children and adolescents. The study also found that, as opposed to traditional bullying, cyberbullying had a stronger relation to suicidal ideation.
We cannot discuss topics such as hunger, poverty, and the threat of cyberbullying without discussing the resources that should be available for our country’s children to turn to, particularly within our schools and our homes. Today, there are countless schools ill-equipped to identify and help their struggling children. Many children are learning in classrooms with over thirty children. In that environment, teachers are not only going to have a more difficult time spotting children that may be going to bed hungry or are being bullied, but they will also have a more difficult time bonding and building a trusting relationship where the child would be more inclined to tell them.
When it comes to the mental health and overall wellbeing of the children living in the United States, we are failing them. Our government’s continued policy of looking the other way when it comes to our children, their environments, and their mental health is literally costing lives. When considering the reality that many Americans are having trouble keeping roofs over our heads and food on the table, we absolutely cannot forget how these struggles affect the youngest and most vulnerable among us. As a society we have a responsibility to work together to create an environment that will nurture our children, and it’s time to call upon our politicians to represent their best interests.