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Survey of California Parents Shows Rise in Trauma Among Youth During Pandemic

Experts say practicing mindfulness can help youth and families cope.

Since the start of the pandemic, potentially traumatic experiences have been on the rise, especially among children and teenagers. Blue Shield of California’s BlueSky initiative funded a study by the Child Mind Institute to learn more about youth trauma – and how families are coping with it.

There are different kinds of traumatic experiences. Acute trauma is related to a traumatizing event or experience, such as physical or sexual assault, the death of a family member, or a school shooting. Then there are ongoing traumatic experiences, such as poverty, racism, or bullying.

“Trauma-driven anxiety and depression have gotten a lot worse,” said Dr. Michael Enenbach, a Child Mind Institute clinical director, who provides mental health treatment to youth and families. “Not only did young people’s loved ones die, but children can also have a trauma response to the news cycle and social media. What’s more, many youth lost their peer support systems during the pandemic.”

BlueSky Infographic_Anxiety 2

The Child Mind Institute research, funded by BlueSky, surveyed 4,200 parents of children ages 0-24 across the country in summer 2022, including 437 parents in California. Key findings among Californians surveyed include:

  • 48% reported their child had experienced increased anxiety during the pandemic
  • 29% reported their child experienced depression/unusual sadness
  • 28% sought professional help for their children for trauma-related concerns during the pandemic
BlueSky Infographic_Mindfulness 3

In addition to enlisting the support of mental health professionals, parents turned to self-care practices. Three of the most interesting data points in the California survey include:

  • 41% of parents did deep breathing exercises with their children
  • 45% practiced mindfulness
  • 86% of parents who engaged in self-care practices reported that breathing exercises were helpful, while 88% said that mindfulness was helpful

Practicing mindfulness to cope with trauma

Jennifer Christian-Herman, Blue Shield vice president of MindBody Medicine, is happy to see that families are using these effective coping techniques. She said that self-care practices are important when dealing with stress and trauma response and can be useful tools to augment psychotherapy and psychiatric treatment.

What is mindfulness? According to Dr. Enenbach, mindfulness is an evidence-based practice that can be part of core treatment. “The goal is to keep yourself in the moment, and concentrate on one thing at a time,” he said. “It’s a way to stay grounded when so much is uncertain in the world.”

Mindfulness can include a range of activities. It could be sitting down, breathing deeply, and noticing your breath, how the air feels on your skin, and feeling your feet on the ground. It could be concentrating deeply when eating, focusing on taste, texture, and smell.

“Our mind, thoughts, and interpretation of events can play a significant role in our overall health,” said Christian-Herman. “Mindfulness can take you out of your head and into your breathing to help process negative experiences. It definitely may not be all you need, but it can help.”

“Most young people are going to have adverse experiences – that’s life – and parents and teachers can teach and model mindfulness as one way to help their kids develop lifelong coping skills to process stressors,” she added. “Stress is not all bad. Having difficult experiences can help a person become more resilient. But how we respond to stress can impact health outcomes. Mindfulness is a tool that can help improve those outcomes.”

When to seek professional help

Increasingly, educators and parents are seeing the value of mindfulness, and it is being taught in schools and communities to help tackle youth mental health challenges. However, it’s critical to know when more help is needed. If parents notice their child is withdrawn, anxious, or having behavioral issues, it’s important to open the lines of communication. If symptoms are getting in the way of a child's daily life and not going away, it's time to seek professional help.

“Mindfulness can be an important coping tool as part of treatment, but it’s not a substitute when a child or teen is struggling with more serious trauma-driven anxiety or depression,” said Christian-Herman.

About BlueSky and Child Mind Institute

The collaboration between Blue Shield of California and Child Mind Institute is part of Blue Shield’s BlueSky youth mental health Initiative. Because the basis of mental health begins in childhood and plays into a person’s well-being throughout life, BlueSky has teamed up with leaders across the country to empower youth, parents, and educators with tools to support emotional well-being for youth.

Learn more in Child Mind Institute’s 2022 Report, Treating Symptoms of Trauma in Children and Teenagers.  Find more tips on mindfulness on the Child Mind Institute website.