The New Pandemic: Children's Mental Health; But Do Enough Adults Care?

THE DOCTOR IS IN - Much of the reason I chose to switch from being double-boarded in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics (with a focus on adolescent medicine) was that I didn't find there was much counseling/mental health discussion in either in the 1980's. Hence, I went into Dermatology, where communications was/is more highly prioritized. 

But in particular, I turned away from Pediatrics NOT because of the children/patients, but because of their obnoxious parents, who more often than not were the problem, and not the solution, towards their children's health. 

It's no secret the teenage depression, suicide, overall sadness, and sexual violence is flying sky-high. Before the COVID-19 pandemic this was the case; during and after the COVID-19 pandemic things really got out of control. Mental health and psychiatric medications are in frightfully short supply, to the extent that things have entered into a crisis mode.  

1 in 5 high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in 2021, and pediatricians alone are crying for help because they cannot fix this alone.

Recruitment of trained youths, and more mental health first aid in schools are all excellent ideas. Certainly the need to emphasize the "NEW PANDEMIC" is as timely as ever... 

...because, more likely than not (almost certainly, in all honesty) YOUR child or young adult is miserable, or knows someone who is miserable. And not just "bummerville"--we're talking depression, suicide, or some other crisis mode. 

Let's be honest--locking down our children at home destroyed many if not most of them. High school and young adults will very likely be permanently scarred by their childhood and freedoms torn away from them. Ditto for our elementary/middle-school students, who had the LEAST reason to be in fear for their health. 

But we were scared, and I mean SCARED, for their parents and grandparents to catch the virus, and absolutely NO true efforts to keep kids separated (space, cubicles, separation of teachers from the kids) but AT SCHOOL were incorporated through much of the nation. And their teachers were more than happy to strike, strike, STRIKE to keep themselves at home, and the kids at home. 

Not even any monitoring or required facial observation in Zoom classes. 

In other words, as a nation, instead of protecting children FIRST, it was the adults who protected themselves FIRST, and threw their kids under the bus. 

I'm sure the same elements will scream, cry, and pull out their hair about they were scared, scared, SCARED of adults (and particularly seniors) dying left and right from COVID-19. I'm sure they will shriek or cuckold us all about how "children are resilient". 

That may all be, to some extent, true...except when the children are NOT. And most children were and are NOT resilient to being locked down as if they were in a prison akin to what we put Japanese families through during World War II. 

I am a physician/dermatologist...and I made damned sure my clinics were open, regardless of any distancing and cleanliness measures that we had to do in order to best ensure safety for all. Some  of my colleagues got COVID, and I frankly wonder if during the pandemic I got it, too.  

And it's safe to say that teachers and seniors would have been at risk had we prioritized children FIRST--not ignore safety, but do whatever the heck it took to distance and separate children from seniors and their teachers. In other words, FIGHT for whatever we could do to keep our mental health safe while also fighting for our physical health. 

And I'm sure that some teachers and seniors might have gotten sick and/or died had we taken the courageous steps to protect our children's mental health. So I've heard. That's what war and pestilence does to societies. And teachers were arguably the worst of them all with respect to throwing their students under the bus. 

But even before the pandemic, middle-aged and older adults have been profiting and/or ignoring the plight of children and young adults: 

Tik-Tok: Why the hell is this still a thing? Or at least the Tik-Tok challenges? Why give the Chinese all of our personal information? 

Social Media and the Internet: Why aren't cellphones ripped away during more classes, and with communications and writing (yes, even cursive) emphasized for students. 

Internet/Social Media Bullying: Why didn't Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and the like all censor bullying, instead of political or scientific thoughts that adults have the right to have and debate? Why not focus on children bullying instead with respect to protecting the bullied? 

School Bullying: In elementary school, this exists. In middle/high school, this is woefully ignored.  

We could debate and decry all sorts of crises with respect to jobs, college, and education to allow children to take on the real world as adults, but that's not the point of my piece today. 

We threw our children under the bus, and that very much includes young adults. That was true before COVID-19, and continues to this day. 

But too many of us adults are too focused on ourselves to protect our children first. And to anyone reading this who are the most offended and in denial of what has/is/will continue to happen, you're probably the most guilty of this terrible social/psychological/health pandemic of all. 


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D, is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud husband to a wonderful wife and father to two cherished children. He was termed out of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC) twice after two stints as a Board member for 9, years and is also a Board member of the Westside Village Homeowners Association. He previously co-chaired the MVCC Outreach, Planning, and Transportation/Infrastructure Committees for 10 years. He was previously co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, the grassroots Friends of the Green Line (which focused on a Green Line/LAX connection), and the nonprofit Transit Coalition His latest project is his fictional online book entitled The Unforgotten Tales of Middle-Earth and can be reached at [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)