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The Mental Health Crisis

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

Long before the pandemic and quarantine, anxiety and depression were on the rise among children and teens. A year into virtual school and a changed world, the effects of isolation and disruption are causing even more difficulties for some students. Why is the mental health of children and teens declining compared to previous years? How are high-ability children and teens impacted? What can parents do to monitor and mitigate signs of concern? This session will focus on the mental health needs of gifted and twice-exceptional children and teens and answer your questions about how to support them.

Research shows that anxiety and depression have been on the rise for teens over the last ten years. In 2016, research from the CDC showed that about 1 out of every 14 children had a current diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. 36.7% of high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the 2019 National Youth Risk Behavior survey. The impact of the pandemic is also causing increased concern over the mental health of students due to isolation from peers and uncertainty about the future.

Gifted students are not immune to the impact of these situations. Because of a heightened awareness of the world, gifted students may struggle to put situations that they don’t have the life experience to truly grasp into context with their experiences. Students who are placed in inappropriate educational settings have the additional pressure of managing academic and social expectations based on same-age peers instead of cognitive peers. Luckily, the cognitive ability of gifted students is an asset we can use to support them; for example, gifted students are often able to implement cognitive-behavioral techniques sooner than some of their same-age peers because they understand the concept behind the strategies.

Families can support students by watching for signs of anxiety and depression and reaching out for help when needed.

  1. Monitor for signs showing that stress levels or low mood are no longer typical. Some of the warning signs families may see at home include increased irritability (one of the major outward signs for increased anxiety), an increased sensitivity to rejection, and statements of self-blame (indicating increased feelings of guilt or low self-worth).
  2. Facilitate non-judgmental conversations about emotions and events. Go into these conversations with the mindset that you are on a fact-finding mission to help your child or teen verbalize their feelings. Recognize that the goal of these conversations is to build emotional literacy and foster an environment of unconditional positive regard; don’t automatically try to “fix” the problem or minimize the problem.
  3. Normalize sharing feelings of vulnerability. Many gifted children get the message from society that they should always have the answers and always be perfect. Seeing adults who never seem to struggle with figuring out their emotions or what to do can cause them to feel like that is what they should do, too. When you feel worried, stressed, or uncertain, verbalize those emotions and share your self-talk: “I know I’m feeling overwhelmed by this situation and I’m not sure what to do, but I know I can get through this.”
  4. Reach out for help when necessary. Whether you talk to your child’s school counselor or find a mental health counselor in your community, know that your child will benefit from having another trustworthy adult in their life. Try to find a mental health professional who specializes in understanding how giftedness influences overall wellbeing; if you can’t find one in your community, talk to several professionals, and ask if they are willing to learn about giftedness to help support your child.

Additional Resources:

Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health

Pandemic Takes Toll On Children’s Mental Health

The Neurodiversity Podcast with Emily Kircher-Morris www.neurodiversitypodcast.com

  • Episode 68: When Neurodiversity Meets Existentialism with Leon Garber
  • Episode 57: The Stresses of Sheltering in Place with Dr. Ed Amend
  • Episode 39: Suicide Among Gifted and Twice-Exceptional (Part 1) with Dr. Tracy Cross
  • Episode 40: Suicide Among Gifted and Twice-Exceptional (Part 2) with Lisa VanGemert
  • Episode 19: Potholes on Memory Lane – Gifted Kids and Trauma with Heather Forbes
  • Episode 12: All the Feels and Then Some with Christine Fonseca

Authored by: Emily Kircher-Morris, LPC
Bio: Inspired by her own experience as a twice-exceptional (2e) learner, Emily Kircher- Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, is dedicated to supporting 2e children in a way she wasn’t during her academic years. She has taught in gifted classrooms, has been a school counselor, and is now in private practice as a licensed professional counselor, where she specializes in helping gifted and twice-exceptional kids. She is also the host of The Neurodiversity Podcast, which explores issues related to giftedness and neurodiversity throughout the lifespan.

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