This article includes the topic of suicide.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
People with mental illness are more likely to experience a substance use disorder than those not affected by a mental illness and the youth mental health crisis in America—intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic—shows no signs of improving. The recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described our country’s pediatric mental health crisis in stark terms.
“As we saw in the 10 years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health among students overall continues to worsen, with more than 40 percent of high school students feeling so sad or hopeless that they could not engage in their regular activities for at least two weeks during the previous year—a possible indication of the experience of depressive symptoms. We also saw significant increases in the percentage of youth who seriously considered suicide, made a suicide plan, and attempted suicide.”
In her latest book, Generations, author and psychology professor Jean Twenge pointed out that Gen Z members born between 1995-2012 are twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, twice as likely to be clinically depressed, and twice as likely to take their own lives as teens and young adults compared to millennials at the same age.
“Every indicator of mental health and psychological well-being has become more negative among teens and young adults since 2012,” Twenge wrote in Generations. “The trends are stunning in their consistency, breadth, and size. Most involve what psychologists call internalizing disorders, such as depression and anxiety. Even when they do not rise to the level of disorders, these emotions are not pleasant—they involve feeling unhappy, dissatisfied with life, and down on yourself.”
Turning Winds therapist Rob Wenzel, LCPC has been working with adolescents for decades. He refers to the youth mental health crisis as ADHD. Normally, ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by excessive and pervasive inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
For Wenzel, the letters stand for anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and death. “Many of our young clients have “extremely high anxiety, severe depression, feelings of hopelessness, and are at risk of death by slow suicide or DBS,” says Wenzel. “Before coming to treatment at Turning Winds they continually self-medicated with drugs and alcohol to address their anxiety, depression, and hopelessness.”
This approach eventually backfires. One of the reasons is the development of tolerance, defined in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5 widely used by psychiatrists in the United States by “either of the following: a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol (or drugs) to achieve intoxication or desired effect – a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.”
Tolerance means you have to increase the dosage all the time to achieve the same effect. This is the DBS part of Wenzel’s new ADHD: “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen an increase in overdoses.” In the case of opioid poisoning, some people can be revived with Narcan (Naloxone), a medication used to reverse or reduce the often deadly effects of opioids. “Fortunately, many don’t die because of the availability of Narcan but now they overdose two or three times,” says Wenzel. “Their ability to navigate life is severely altered. They cannot hold a job, they can’t go to college, and they can’t keep up with the pressure, so they withdraw more and more.”
Many kids increasingly can’t handle actual human relationships and interactions and retreat into an online fantasy world—a virtual reality. Instead of connecting with other human beings, “they get caught up in gaming or the pornography fantasy world because it feels safer. They feel that they are in control here and get much excitement without too much effort,” explains Wenzel.
The Turning Winds model of care is based on therapeutic support in a setting that emulates a functional family system. Since its founding, the idea of family has remained a foundational precept of the program. “The simple, singular focus of our treatment program is to help each student improve their self-image and their self-confidence and change the behaviors that have been hindering their growth by teaching them to create stable patterns of living through education, process groups, and individualized treatment planning,” says Turning Winds CEO Owen Baisden.
At Turning Winds, it’s people like Rob Wenzel who make the difference. Over the course of two decades, we’ve built a team of some of the world’s finest academic and therapeutic professionals, all of whom share the same goal: to help teens re-engage meaningfully with their lives, families, and their futures.
Contact us online for more information, or call us at 800-845-1380. If your call isn’t answered personally, one of us will get back to you as soon as possible.