Here’s what KTAR News learned from ‘Youth on Edge’ series on teen mental health

Apr 5, 2024, 4:00 PM

PHOENIX — KTAR News spent the last week examining mental health and behavioral issues among our teens and young adults.

Reporters spoke with mental health professionals, community advocates and those involved in the legal system to gather more insight on the topics.

Here’s what we learned from the “Youth on Edge” series:

COVID pandemic a major driver for a decline in teen mental health across metro Phoenix

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly contributed to a decline in teenagers’ mental health, with its effects being felt at a higher rate now compared to recent years.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised significant concerns about teenage mental health in the aftermath of the pandemic. The study said 29% of high school students reported poor metal health and 42% stated they had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

“That stripped away some years in which we develop those social skills,” Francia Day, a clinical psychologist with Banner Health, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “The way that we become confident with a skill is when we get to practice it.”

Social media a double-edged sword for teenagers’ mental health, Valley expert says

Social media is where culture and communication intersect the most for teenagers, who are spending more and more time on apps that could be harmful for their mental health, a Valley expert says.

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, the average teen spends about five hours a day on social media sites. It’s where they’re comfortable, according to Day.

“There’s this idea that socializing occurs primarily in the online world,” Day told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “It’s so much a part of our everyday lives. And because the teen years are such a formative developmental stage, they’re comfortable in the online world.”

Valley probation officers working to keep youth out of legal system, on right path

Keeping young people out of the vicious cycle of the legal system is the life work for Valley probation officers Thelma Fowler and Mark Wertsching.

It’s not an easy task to balance compassion and understanding with the reality that if juveniles don’t improve their behavior, they could become victims of the system.

Fowler supervises a Juvenile Community Offender Restitution and Public Service program (JCOR) with Maricopa County and says her focus is less on the crimes committed and more on how individuals are doing mentally and behaviorally.

“For us, it’s not so much what did they do, it’s what’s their behavior is like while they’re working with us,” Fowler said.

Valley experts say parents, communities need to do more to combat violence, bullying

Valley experts on bullying and youth violence say parents must engage with their children about what’s going on in their lives, especially with several recent incidents that have rocked the metro area.

Donna Bartos with Valley nonprofit BLOOM365, which works to prevent violence before it starts for young people aged 11-24, says it’s an act she believes the entire community needs to get on board with.

“If we just did this work in unison and took the time and had the patience to get there, we would see big changes in the next decade,” Bartos said.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

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Here’s what KTAR News learned from ‘Youth on Edge’ series on teen mental health