Armed with 50 munchkins, I walked into my daughter’s second period high school psychology class. I was there to talk about the career of a psychologist and introduce them to the world of psychotherapy. After a brief description of my career path and discussion of psychotherapy, I opened the floor to their questions. They asked me awesome questions- how do you treat PTSD? How do you decide when to offer someone medication? What ethical issues have you dealt with? How does being a psychologist interact with your personal life? I tried my best to answer them with accuracy and honesty. The teacher recorded my talk with the intention of presenting it to four more sections of psychology class that day.
The 48 minutes spent with the next generation of potential therapists gave me a window into how the landscape of mental health and psychotherapy might be changing. These high school juniors and seniors have spent most of their high school career impacted by the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, research from the CDC in 2019 showed that 1 in 3 high schoolers experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, a 40% increase since 2009 (cdc.gov). As these teens experienced the pandemic, they were adversely impacted by the social isolation and decrease in normalcy of the past few years. It is highly likely that most of the students I met with have either experienced a mental health condition themselves or have a friend who has struggled with depression or anxiety.
But, I did not return from my visit to high school feeling like the current situation or the future is grim. In fact, I felt energized and optimistic…
Perhaps the dramatic increase in the need for help has led to de-stigmatization of therapy. The culture around talking about going to therapy or having a therapist seems to be more open.
Maybe more individuals from this generation will choose a career in the helping profession. Perhaps the adversity faced by today’s youth will lead to young researchers motivated to find new and better methods to treat mental health conditions and creative solutions for all to access treatment.
When I created MellaHealth, I made the decision to provide treatment to teens as part of our mission. It is my hope that if we can provide today’s youth with the support and mental health treatment they need to grow and thrive, we will be paying it forward to cultivate the next generation of individuals who have a new openness to mental health and mental health treatment — along with a new cohort of therapists and researchers ready to support the cause!