It should come as no surprise that children across the US and across the globe have collectively struggled much more than usual over the past couple of years. Even before the pandemic in 2019, more than one in three US high school students reported experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a 40 percent increase from a decade earlier.
With schools closed and heavy social restrictions in place, many children are even more prone to loneliness, anger, anxiety, depression, and have fewer opportunities than before to ask for help. According to a study published in August of last year, symptoms and depression and anxiety among youth globally doubled during the pandemic. This led the US surgeon general to issue an advisory on the youth mental health crisis, suggesting that we should all focus on “[empowering] youth and their families to recognize, manage, and learn from difficult emotions.”
That’s why the state of California launched a new video program called “The California Healthy Minds, Thriving Kids Project.” The program features interviews with 64 Californian children and adolescents in which they speak candidly about their experience with the pandemic and how it makes them feel.
The project is funded by a $25 million grant from the state of California, and on top of the children’s interviews, includes tools for parents and teachers that will help them teach children how to manage their emotions and useful coping skills, as well as normalize conversations about emotional wellbeing. All the videos are available in both English and Spanish and feature a diverse range of kids.
The Healthy Minds, Thriving Kids project is just one part of a $4.4 billion investment California is making in youth mental health over five years.
“Now more than ever, it’s critical that we provide our children with equitable opportunities to develop mental health and wellness skills to support their long-term health, as well as their success later in life,” says Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the first partner of Gov. Gavin Newsom. She has been helping promote the initiative, which she hopes “will provide children and the adults in their lives with the tools kids need to thrive.”
While the videos aren’t meant to replace professional help, according to a child psychiatrist and president of the Child Mind Institute Dr. Harold Koplewicz, the hope is that the project becomes “a way to scale a set of tools and skills that every child needs, whether they have a mental health disorder or they’re mentally healthy.”