On Jan. 3, Dr. Matthew Biel, MSc, vice chair, and chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Georgetown University Hospital and professor in clinical psychiatry and pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine, addressed faculty and parents on the mental health challenges facing youth. He is involved nationally in psychiatric education and advocacy for children’s mental health.
Biel fielded questions from Associate Head of School Jessica Keough and Mental Health Program Coordinator Amy Raskind P’25 during a panel discussion held in Werner Centennial Center. He provided a perspective on the current mental health crisis and offered recommendations for how the school and parents can better prepare students for mental health challenges they might face.
The rise in mental health issues isn’t new and isn’t restricted to youth, according to Biel. He noted that expressions of anxiety, loneliness and isolation among adolescents predates COVID, particularly for girls. “There are trends aligning to influence this; the digital lives of our kids increasingly looks to be causing it. But people, in general, are feeling more overwhelmed by social pressures, financial fears and aspects of the future.”
Some of what we are seeing today has always been here, we just didn’t see it, or know what to call it, said Biel. “But we are now recognizing it and kids are getting better about recognizing it themselves and coming forward and asking for help.”
The onslaught of social media is here to stay, but Biel advocates for creating intentional programming like phone-free time, which is valuable for adolescents and adults.
“We also need to educate kids to be better consumers of the extraordinarily and deeply designed ways that [social media] hijacks kids’ brains,” he said. They need to be educated about it, and they need to start to build a sense of understanding among themselves.
He also addressed the college application process and the pressure on students to build achievements and accomplishments for their college resume while reconciling it with messaging that asks them to be mindful of their wellness and mental health.
Much of the anxiety of the college process comes from parents, Biel noted. “We set a trap for kids. We have extraordinary expectations for our kids, and I think a lot of that comes from parents’ own fears,” he said.
The school can play a role in counterbalancing the pressure.
“You have a unique atmosphere here,” he said, noting that the best way to prepare students for the future is by promoting engagement, cohesiveness and connectedness within the community.
“Community and relationships,” he said, “are what creates strong foundations for adolescents entering adulthood.”
You can see a recording of the conversation here.