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When to do teen therapy: Gen Z mental health crisis

When to do teen therapy: Gen Z mental health crisis


Derry Oliver was in fifth grade when she first talked to her mom about seeing a therapist.

She was living in Georgia with her uncle and grandparents while her mom was in New York scoping out jobs and apartments ahead of moving the family. It was a rough year apart. Oliver, now 17, was feeling depressed. A school staffer raised the idea of a therapist.

Oliver’s mom, also named Derry Oliver, questioned the school’s assessment and didn’t give consent for therapy. “You’re so young,” the mom recalled thinking. “There’s nothing wrong with you. These are growing pains.”

The issue boiled over again during the COVID-19 pandemic when the younger Oliver, struggling with the isolation of remote learning, reached out to her Brooklyn high school for help. School-based mental health professionals like social workers can provide some counseling without parent permission. But in New York, referring a student to more intensive therapy almost always requires a parent’s agreement. In Oliver’s case, that led to more conflict.

“It was very emotional for both of us because I understood her frustrations and fears,” the younger Oliver recalled. “But at the same time it’s sometimes best for your child to be able to access this rather than hold it away from them.”

As schools across the country respond to a youth mental health crisis accelerated by the pandemic, many are confronting the thorny legal, ethical, and practical challenges of getting parents on board with treatment. The issue has become politicized, with some states looking to streamline access as conservative politicians elsewhere propose further restrictions, accusing schools of trying to indoctrinate students and cut out parents.

Differing perspectives on mental health aren’t new for parents and kids, but more conflicts are emerging as young people get more comfortable talking openly about mental health and treatment becomes more readily available. Schools have invested pandemic relief money in hiring more mental health specialists as well as telehealth and online counseling to reach as many students as possible.

“It’s this disconnect,” said Chelsea Trout, a social worker at a charter school in Brooklyn. “The kids are all on TikTok or the internet and understand therapy speak and that this is something that could be helpful for their mental health and are interested in, but don’t have the explicit buy-in from their parents.”

Research suggests…

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