Oregon experts discuss pandemic’s toll on youth mental health

By Regence
April 25, 2023
KATU Town Hall 2023

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on youth mental health is startling. In 2021, more than 4 in 10 students reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless, and more than 1 in 5 students have seriously considered suicide. This follows the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the U.S. Surgeon General declaring a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

Oregon is also ranked as one of the worst states for “prevalence of mental illness” in the U.S., according to the 2023 State of Mental Health in America Report from Mental Health America. And the pandemic only exacerbated mental health issues for our youth, as many were left isolated.

Regence recently gathered with behavioral health experts across Oregon for a KATU town hall to shed light on the issue and help answer some important questions about how to access care and the main mental health drivers for youth today.

The town hall panelists included Dr. Mike Franz, Regence’s senior medical director of behavioral health; Ebony Clarke, behavioral health director for the Oregon Health Authority; Dr. Craigan Usher, director of child and adolescent psychiatry training at Oregon Health & Science University; and Marcia Hille, executive director of Sequoia Mental Health Services.

The discussion highlighted the significant impact the pandemic has had on youth mental health.

“One of the things that has been a result of the pandemic is the new light that’s been shed on the need for mental health services,” said Hille. “The state has been proactive in funding schools to develop new programs, and expand programs that I think are going to be helpful down the road.”

“Oftentimes we forget how important connection is as human beings, and in the pandemic, youth were kind of left on their own, having to grapple with depression, anxiety and trauma. I’ve heard stories of youth and young adults experiencing fear and confusion because, as they look to their parents, they see that their parents or that trusted adult in their life don’t even have the answers,” said Clarke. “It wreaked havoc, and we’re only scratching the surface of the impact.”

During the pandemic, many young people turned to social media to connect with friends and family. A coping mechanism that many of them said at the town hall they still use today, leaving them feeling with this false sense of reality.

Dr. Usher says one way parents can help is by putting down their own phones. “Be a great example and put [the phone] down ourselves. When adults do this first, before you expect your kids will start having the phone outside the room, too. Neuroscience suggests that if [the phone] is outside the room, then it is more out of mind.”

The panel discussed everything from social media to eating disorders to academics. Many young people say that it’s been hard to stay motivated to go back to school or study. “The statistics are clear that a lot of the kids are still struggling with depression and anxiety, and I think making sure that they get access so that they can address their mental health and feel more motivated and able to attend school,” said Dr. Franz. “It comes down to providing them access to timely, quality behavioral health resources and that’s the solutions that we’re working on at Regence.”

This town hall was part of KATU’s Recover Northwest campaign, supported by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, which aims to bring awareness to mental health and substance use disorders. You can watch the town hall on KATU.com.

We’re here to help

Whether you may need occasional emotional support or ongoing mental health care, we can help you find the behavioral health care option that’s right for you. In addition to our network of therapists, counselors and psychiatrists, you can find mental health resources and care options at regence.com. This includes virtual care options that are accessible without a referral from the comfort of your home.

If you’re experiencing a mental health emergency, dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The lifeline provides free, confidential, 24/7 support to anyone who’s depressed, needs to talk or is thinking about suicide.