Mental Health.

What are the ingredients that go into it? Parents know that their kids are NOT all right as a recent New York Times editorial named. They are suffering from social isolation, from lack of physical contact, from missing so many things – sports, dates, classroom pranks, or even simply hanging out without an agenda.

Plants need sunlight, oxygen, dirt, and water to thrive. Perhaps we do too. What are the essential elements that go into a kids Mental Health?

I’m recently “out” with my Bipolar brain. I have a serious mental health issue to deal with. But isn’t Covid telling us that everyone, particularly teens and younger kids, have their breaking point? And what are we doing to protect our kids mental health from snapping?

A highly respected local university where my 19 year-old daughter Maya goes to school just callously shut down again. The kids were finally enjoying a “normal” healthy college experience – partying, outdoors, clubs, classes live, eating together. All simple things that we took for granted when we were their age, they find novel. Maya called, texted, sent videos with multiple exclamation points. “Mom, look how many kids there are on the green!” “Mom we’re all eating tother in the dining hall, masks off!” “Mom the Frisbee Club is on!” Then, the boom came crashing down, with little explanation and no collaboration with students. All dining halls closed. No gatherings over five or risk of penalty. Masks for everything. This in a school with a 98% vaccination rate. And 0.6% infection rate.

My daughter and her friends are crushed. One of the moms wrote simply, “This is abuse.” That’s an accurate assessment of the random violence we are doing to kids’ mental health by catapulting them back and forth between ecstatic freedom and quarantine jail.

My husband and I are shaking our heads. Was the counseling center even consulted when this shut-down decision was made? In the young adult demographic, mental health risk is much greater than Covid risk. Three students at Dartmouth sadly committed suicide. The CDC reports 25% of kids have suicidal ideation during Covid. Maya said that the office for counseling and psychological services at her school was flooded with requests, under-resourced and unprepared to deal with them. I learned today that the Director of counseling was missing. Quit? fired? I don’t know. But I have a hunch that perhaps he or she left with all circuits fried. I doubt they had the financial resources to meet crushing demand. And I bet the football team had more than their share. Not that I have anything against football.

I want to clarify that I love the vaccine. I have close to zero tolerance for folks who are choosing not to get theirs. Covid is serious and we have to take common sense steps to protect its spread. But that means common sense. In a demographic that is young, healthy, and 98% vaccinated, common sense says, prioritize Mental Health.

What would it take to put our kids mental health first? Perhaps we need to define what Mental Health is. On the physical plane we can measure weight, blood pressure, temperature, etc. We know the range of what is acceptable. It is much harder to quantify the more elusive Mental domain.

But can we have some markers to aspire to? Capacity for joy, creativity, play. Ability to follow through on commitments. Sense of purpose. Capacity for intimate relationships. And then let’s create the conditions to cultivate these in our kids.

I’ll tell you what not to do: shut them in a room, in the basement, by themselves, eating alone, during the darkest nights of the year, no physical contact, connecting only through a screen. Sounds like a horror flick. And that’s exactly what the University imposed on our kids last winter. And are poised to do again. Perpetrators of abuse.

If they don’t choose to measure the crushing weight of draconian restrictions on young brains and minds, if they don’t consider the dangerous impact on young people, then they will continue to perpetrate cruelty. And be complicit in a pandemic of mental breakdown among our children.

Maybe I am more tuned in to this than the average bureaucrat because of my Bipolar brain. Maybe viscerally feeling the terror of those episodes makes me a ferocious Momma bear seeking to protect my kids mental health and their peers from unnecessary torture. I am angry that administrators seem to be cavalier as they crush young people’s freedom to thrive.

Depriving them of the soil, air, water, and light that they need to grow.

We can and must do better.