American Children’s Mental Health a National Emergency, Shadow Work Could Help

Children across the United States are experiencing a mental health crisis according to a group of leading pediatric experts.

The problem is so severe it is being considered a national emergency by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

One emerging psychological strategy offers a way for youth to work on their mental conflicts. Shadow work is a way of analyzing the repressed parts of the self and creating understanding. Through the use of shadow work prompts, patients can learn how to accept and move past their mental blocks and increase their overall mental health.

Children Suffering Mental Health Emergency

In the letter drafted by various organizations and associations, the groups state that mental health cases have steadily risen over the last 10 years. But the pandemic, together with growing racial tensions and inequality has exacerbated the problem.

Specifically, a study comparing white children to native american children showed that the latter were 4.5 times more likely to have lost a primary caregiver. Similarly, black children were 2.4 times as likely and hispanic children were 2 times as likely to have experienced the same loss.

“We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities, and all our futures,” said Dr. Gabriell Carlson, president of the AACAP (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry).

Leaders Take Action

Recently, President Biden announced plans to invest $85 million in mental health awareness, training and treatment for adolescents. But the declaration calls for more action from both a federal and local level to improve mental health conditions. This includes screening, diagnosing and treating the various conditions affecting youth.

The Department of Education is also aware of the crisis and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says that schools need to take immediate action. Prior to the pandemic, 13-22% of school-aged youth experienced mental health conditions. According to Cardona, research indicates that number has now jumped by 80%.

“You know, the staffing is an area of focus that – we across the country need to make sure we’re putting our best ideas on paper and sharing best practices,” he said in an interview with NPR. “So let’s learn from one another, and let’s do what we need to do for our students.”

What are Shadows?

One way psychologists say that children can better their mental health is to address their repressed emotions. These emotions make up what Carl Jung called the “shadow self”- the self that is hidden away and seen as unacceptable by others. By working through repressed trauma through the use of shadow prompts, patients can bring out the hidden parts of themselves and begin to understand them.

People often learn from childhood what is and isn’t acceptable or likeable in different situations. Additionally, fitting in among varying social groups means adjusting personalities to suit each group, and hiding what doesn’t fit in. When authentic feelings and emotions are tucked away they don’t simply disappear, however, according to Jung, they can re-emerge as episodes of anger or anxiety.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” Jung famously said. By this he meant that until these shadow selves are brought to the forefront of awareness and addressed, they will emerge as uncontrolled acts.

Healing with Shadows

Shadow work is all about paying attention to feelings that come up and seem to take over, as well as recognizing unfavorable patterns. Working with a therapist at the beginning can help train patients to identify these feelings which can easily be overlooked or ignored.

“Shadow work is all about the unconscious mind, which consists of the things we repress and hide from ourselves, such as traumas,” according to Marriage and Family Therapist Danielle Massi. She is trained to help her patients work through trauma that may come from experiencing violence, abuse, or from surviving an accident. Massi often practices shadow work with her patients to reach a more profound level of healing.

“As a psychotherapist for a decade, I felt that my clients and I could only get so far exploring the conscious and subconscious mind,” she said. “I moved away from traditional psychotherapy and into shadow work to help them heal at a much deeper level.”