Army veteran Carlos Correa dreams of starting a business growing lettuce and tomatoes in greenhouses. But the traumatic injuries he suffered as a result of serving in Afghanistan prevent him from working. His wife now cares for him at home. Correa had thought he left Afghanistan unscathed because he was alive and uninjured. But over time, survivor’s guilt, sadness about the problems of veterans he counseled at work, deep-seated anger at an Army superior, and uncontrollable emotions overwhelmed him.
Weeks into staying home from preschool, Betty, 4, threw herself on the floor and had a screaming meltdown. She had had a Zoom meeting with her class earlier that day, and every little thing was setting her off. “We don’t accept screaming in our house,” said Betty’s mother, Laura Bower-Phipps, professor and coordinator of elementary education at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. “So, we counted the screams, and when she hit three, my wife and I told her she needed to take a break for four minutes.” Betty took the break, came back and screamed three more times, and again went to her quiet spot for another four minutes. And so, it went on.
Adolescents want and need to be with peers, so the isolation imposed by the pandemic is especially hard for them. Parents are put in the difficult position of enforcing that isolation. Students are also experiencing many losses – Spring sports, prom, graduations, and field trips. C-HIT’s Colleen Shaddox talks about how parents can support their teenaged children with Dr. Megan V. Smith, associate professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine.
The pandemic has many parents trying to do their jobs from home, supervise their children’s education and provide 24-7 care. Creating reasonable expectations can keep parents from becoming overwhelmed in a high stress situation. Setting goals that are achievable – and carving out a bit of time for yourself — will make this extraordinary time more manageable. C-HIT’s Colleen Shaddox discusses ways to find balance with Dr. Megan V. Smith, associate professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine.
One recent evening at Middletown’s Russell Library, a group of young millennials sat around a table in an out-of-the-way spot, sharing their experiences of debilitating depression and anxiety. “I think you just get to the point where you’re like, ‘I don’t want to live like this anymore,’ ” said Old Saybrook resident Collin Schuster, 25, who has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. “The really important thing for me is to reach out for support.”
The session is one of more than 60 support groups offered by the Connecticut chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This one is specifically for young adults, age 18 to 29. Between 2014 and 2017, the prevalence rate for depression grew 31%, the largest increase of any health condition affecting millennials age 21 to 36, according to a recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report that examined those covered by commercial health insurance.
About 26% of young adults 18-25 years old have a mental health issue, but only 38% of those affected actually receive treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Colleges across the U.S. have felt the weight of the statistics. Counseling centers are flooded by an increasing demand for a limited amount of mental health resources, resulting in students getting placed on waitlists. At times, students are turning toward e-communities, particularly ones on Instagram, for support and recovery. Many accounts are dedicated to raising awareness and offering support for eating disorders, anxiety, and depression. Instagram users communicate and bond through their captions, stories, and private messages on their mental battles and physical struggles.
Growing up, Mary Louise Montini, 13, has often been angry, upset and on edge, just like her father, a veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her experience isn’t unique. Children can develop their own mental illnesses as a result of their parents’ struggles with PTSD and other mental health disorders associated with their military service, professionals say. And there are few resources and programs targeted to veterans’ children, compared to children of active military. Experts say the treatment needs of veterans’ children will continue as their parents continue to rotate through deployments to conflicts around the world, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
As anxiety and depression among college students soars, universities in Connecticut and nationally are expanding their mental health counseling, even offering courses that address mental well-being. A new national report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State found that anxiety and depression were the top concerns of students seeking counseling services, and that self-harm behaviors have risen for the seventh year in a row. In another survey, 57 percent of directors of college counseling services said the severity of student mental health concerns increased between 2015 and 2016. And according to a National College Health Assessment (NCHA) survey, 9.1 percent of college students reported being diagnosed in the last year with a psychiatric condition. “We have seen an increase this fall compared to last fall of almost 30 percent in students requesting to be seen by our counseling service,” said Kerry Patton, director of health and wellness at Quinnipiac University. Over the last few years, anxiety has surpassed depression as the most common reason students at Quinnipiac are seeking counseling services.
The state’s efforts to direct children in mental health crisis away from emergency rooms, to other services, have fallen short, with major hospitals reporting staggering increases in patient visits since 2013: Up 32 percent at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and 81 percent at Yale New Haven Hospital. The children’s hospital (CCMC) reported nearly 3,300 visits last year – 275 a month, on average — with the average length of stay increasing to 15 hours from less than 12 in 2013. “I wish I could say we had made a lot of progress, but we haven’t,” said Dr. Steve Rogers, medical director of the emergency department’s (ED’s) behavioral health unit. “Unfortunately, I think it’s only going to keep trending this way.”
Similarly, Yale saw ED visits by children ages 15 and younger rise from fewer than 750 in 2013 to more than 1,350 in 2016 — and the numbers are running even higher this year, said Dr. Claudia Moreno, medical director for psychiatric emergencies in Yale’s children’s emergency department. At times, she said, all ED beds are full, and children wait on hallway gurneys.
State officials and parent advocates gave different versions Tuesday of how often, and why, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) takes custody of children with severe behavioral health problems – and whether the practice should continue. Advocates, including a group of adoptive parents, told the legislature’s Committee on Children that a proposed bill that would prohibit DCF from “requesting, recommending or requiring” that parents relinquish their custodial rights when seeking mental health treatment for their children is needed to stop a practice known as ‘trading custody for care.’ The bill, drafted by state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, was prompted by an October C-HIT story that described DCF’s use of “uncared for” custody petitions against parents who could not manage their children at home and insisted on specialized residential care. In testimony Tuesday, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz said the agency resorts to taking over custody only in rare cases in which parents refuse to take their children home from inpatient settings or “will not cooperate” with clinician-recommended in-home or community-based treatment services. “We disagree with the notion that DCF requires parents to completely relinquish custody of their children” to receive suitable behavioral health care, Katz said. She acknowledged that the agency has sharply reduced the number of children it places in residential treatment.