EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Data from a recent CVS Health/Morning Consult survey revealed teenagers are approaching teachers with mental health concerns more often, according to hundreds of parents and educators who were polled.
The poll, conducted in late August, asked 500 parents and 340 teachers across the country about the mental health of teens aged 13-17 .
Data found that 76% of teachers surveyed felt concerns about adolescent mental health, and 78% of those teachers said adolescents would come to them for conversations about it.
Cara McNulty, president of behavioral health and mental well-being at CVS Health, said alternatively that the parents surveyed had a lower level of concern.
“Forty-three percent were concerned about their specific adolescents mental health,” McNulty said. “About 58% of parents said their adolescent’s are coming to them to talk about their mental health.”
However, the survey found almost half of parents said they initiate conversations about mental health with their child, compared to almost quarter of educators.
Dr. Tanuja Gandhi, a child psychiatrist at Bradley Hospital, said as kids spend a lot of time in school, educators are often their first line of contact outside of their family.
“It’s not surprising that they would confide in the teacher, counselors, social worker, or their friends about the deepest feelings, or sometimes embarrassing or scary feelings that they might have,” Gandhi said.
According to the survey, educators cited family dynamics and relationships (94%), self-esteem (91%), bullying/social dynamics (85%) and social media usage (83%) as the top negative impacts on children’s mental health.
However, parents most often cited academic pressure (52%), self-esteem (51%), pandemic-related stress (48%) and bullying/social dynamics (43%) as having negative impacts on their children’s mental health.
“It’s true that all the stresses together can impact your self esteem, your general sense of well-being, feelings of sadness, and also precipitate thoughts of suicide for many kids,” Gandhi said.
The survey also found 94% of both parents and educators reported they were confident they could find appropriate support for a teen experiencing mental health issues.
Gandhi said suicide is a preventable cause of death, and the first thing parents, educators or friends can do if they see someone struggling is to ask them if they’re OK, in an effort to initiate a conversation to seek help.
“As much as we might deny it, it’s a reality that children also have suicidal thoughts,” Gandhi said. “We need to take it seriously when someone presents with these thoughts, when we have concerns about someone and about it that they might be contemplating about taking their own life.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34 in 2020.
Kids’ Link RI is a behavioral health triage service and referral network that’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help triage children and youth in need of mental health services and refer them to treatment providers.
The free, confidential phone line, 1-855-543-5465, connects parents and caregivers to an experienced clinician that can help them access children’s services in Rhode Island, and determine the best place to go for treatment and counseling.