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During May’s Mental Health Month, Dr. Venus Nicolino Details How Schools Can Support Distressed Youths



During Mays Mental Health Month Dr. Venus Nicolino Details How Schools Can Support Distressed Youths

It’s a universal phenomenon: As youths transition from childhood to adulthood, their behavior drastically changes. Overnight, it seems, once happy-go-lucky kids morph into ticking time bombs of angst. Brain and hormone development conspire to create this transition.

But for American teens, what was once classic teen conduct has deepened into worsening mental health. This decline has been happening for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic and ubiquitous school shootings exacerbated it.

Dr. Venus Nicolino is among the mental-health experts watching this downward trajectory. Nicolino, a doctor of clinical psychology, is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in the Age of Bulls–t. She views worsening mental health as a serious problem for teens and wants to help these youths.

“We’re 100% in trouble,” said Nicolino, owner of the innovative mental health app SoundMind. “Some studies suggest anxiety and depression in children and adolescents doubled globally compared to pre-pandemic levels.”

According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4 in 10 adolescents feel “persistently sad or hopeless.” Teenage girls experience such feelings at a rate double that of boys: The CDC reports that nearly 3 in 5 (57%) teen girls felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021; 29% of boys expressed that sentiment.

Dr. Nicolino says schools can create an environment that protects adolescents’ mental health. Educators can help remove the stigma of mental health through various initiatives.

“Creating a culture of mental health in schools is crucial for the well-being of students and educators alike,” Dr. Nicolino says. “With the right tools and support, you can take that vital step toward building a brighter and more resilient future for us all.”

Modern Circumstances That Affect Youths’ Moods

Dr. Venus Nicolino says today’s teens worry about grades, gun violence, climate change, social status, and more. It’s overwhelming and creates mental health issues described as a “national emergency” by authorities including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association.

“Kids today face a tidal wave of new pressures and threats adults never had to deal with growing up,” Dr. Nicolino says. “They see highlight reels of doom based on news reports, which are then rehashed by reaction videos. Every problem in the world pops up on kids’ social media feeds. The world’s weight is in their faces and on their shoulders.”

School shootings are one source of teen anxiety. There have been 377 of these tragedies since the Columbine High massacre in 1999, according to The Washington Post, which tracks them. The most recent shooting was at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 27, 2023. A former student shot and killed three students and three adults.

Social media is another source of youths’ anxiety and depression.

“Social media leads to infinite comparisons no one can withstand,” Dr. Venus Nicolino says. “If she scrolls long enough, the most beautiful girl finds it easier to pick out her flaws. She compares herself to hundreds of other faces and bodies.”

A 2023 study by neuroscientists at the University of North Carolina on 12- to 15-year-olds revealed emotional problems caused by social media. The study found that children who habitually check their social media accounts display a heightened sensitivity to social rewards from peers.

Lack of sleep and in-person socialization can worsen teens’ mental health. Federal research shows that today’s teenagers get less sleep and exercise and spend less in-person time with friends. All of these behaviors are crucial for healthy development.

Dr. Venus Nicolino Encourages Schools to Support Mental Health Initiatives for Students

Nicolino says schools can destigmatize mental illness through education. School-based interventions can encourage youths to seek help.

“By promoting an environment that is supportive and understanding, schools can help reduce the stigma around mental health and create a safe space for everyone to seek help and support,” she explains.

“This can involve initiatives such as incorporating mental health education into the curriculum, providing access to mental health resources and encouraging open and honest discussions about mental health.”

Educators providing youth with an anti-stigma program about mental health improve attitudes and encourage youngsters to seek help. These findings are based on a randomized trial of sixth graders who were given the Eliminating the Stigma of Difference curriculum.

Bruce G. Link, Ph.D., and his co-authors from the University of California Riverside discovered that the curriculum enhanced perspectives and inspired children to seek mental health treatment. The school-based program showed potential for “improving the social climate,” according to the researchers.

Dr. Venus Nicolino Recommends the SoundMind App

Technology also offers solutions. Mental health apps can help teens and preteens cope with the stress of modern life and live happier lives. That’s why Dr. Venus Nicolino is the chairwoman and owner of SoundMind, a mental wellness app that employs music therapy to ease users’ trauma, depression, and anxiety.

“SoundMind offers mental health therapy to any young person anywhere,” Nicolino says. “SoundMind can help young people get a little further down the road with every download. Often, five minutes worth of positive feelings produces hope, which can carry a person through the day.”

SoundMind is clinically proven to reduce users’ anxiety and stress while improving their concentration, focus, and sleep. A composing team creates SoundMind’s specialized audio therapy. The app also connects users with resources like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

After witnessing America’s scant psychological services, Travis Chen and Brian Femminella developed and launched the app in November 2021. In an interview with WJLA, Washington, D.C.’s ABC affiliate, Chen described the need for psychological services outside of a doctor’s office.

“As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic — and also with the increase in school shootings — anxiety and depression levels are just through the roof,” Chen told WJLA.

And Dr. Venus Nicolino sees SoundMind as a valuable device to advance mental health. “SoundMind is a platform that meets the students where they are and grows with them as they continue to develop,” she says. “With the right tools and support, you can take that vital step toward building a brighter and more resilient future for us all.”

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