As the mental health repercussions of the pandemic become clear, an increasing number of teenagers in Fairfield County and throughout the state of Connecticut need support for depression, anxiety, trauma, suicidal thoughts, and co-occurring disorders. Unfortunately, not enough of them are receiving treatment. A large percentage of youth in the region are unable to access care from Fairfield County mental health and substance abuse treatment centers.
The shortfall in mental healthcare services means that more children and teens are going to hospital emergency departments when mental health issues reach a crisis point. According to new data from Connecticut Children’s Hospital, more than 30 children with psychiatric needs were waiting in the hospital’s 48-bed emergency department every day last month—and that average had increased to 40 by the end of April. The hospital expects to flag 20,000 kids this year for suicidal ideation, representing a tenfold increase from last year.
Meanwhile, at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital’s ER, the number of patients making visits related to behavioral health doubled between March and May, and now represents between 15 and 20 percent of all patients visiting the emergency department. These stats make it clear that hospitals in Connecticut, as well as Fairfield County mental health services and rehabs in Fairfield CT, are struggling to meet the growing need.
The Newest CT Mental Health Stats
Each year, Mental Health America (MHA) ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of overall prevalence of mental illness and access to mental healthcare. According to MHA’s 2021 rankings, 14 percent of Connecticut youth (39,000 teens) had at least one major depressive episode. And nearly two-thirds of them—59 percent—did not receive any care at all for their depression. That means that 24,000 young people in the state, many of them in Fairfield County, experienced at least one major depressive episode during 2020 and did not get any mental health treatment.
Moreover, only 22 percent of youth in Connecticut with major depression received some level of consistent treatment. As a result, Connecticut ranked at number 45 among the states for this measurement, with only six states in the nation making a worse showing in 2020. This represents a significant drop for the state from the prior year, when 35 percent of Connecticut teens received some amount of ongoing treatment. Hence, in a health outcomes ranking of Connecticut counties that includes mental health and substance abuse measures, Fairfield came in at number four among the eight counties.
Additionally, MHA’s report found that 4 percent of young people in the state (11,000 youth) had a substance abuse disorder in 2020. This statistic clearly illustrates the need for addiction treatment in Fairfield and other Connecticut counties.
Rising CT Teen Suicide Rate Highlights Need for Fairfield County Mental Health Services
The rate of teen suicides in Connecticut has consistently been higher than the national rate, and is continuing to rise. Between 2016 and 2020, the rate of teen suicide in the United States rose from 5.3 per 100,000 adolescents aged 15–19 to 6.8 per 100,000. In Connecticut, however, the teen suicide rate was at 8.4 per 100,000 in 2016. And by 2020, it had risen to 11 per 100,000. In Fairfield County, the rate of deaths of despair (including both suicides and drug-related deaths) was 27 out of 100,000, according to a US News report.
That statistic, however, doesn’t take into account the number of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts among the state’s teens. In general, teen suicide risk goes up along with rates of depression, which have steeply increased during the pandemic. Research and surveys show that nearly three-quarters of teens are currently experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression—and many of them don’t have resources for dealing with these difficult emotions. A student survey in the Fairfield County town of Darien, conducted every three years by the city’s Thriving Youth Task Force, found that 48 percent of Darien High School students say they do not have the coping skills to respond to disappointment, frustration, or other experiences of discomfort. And 35 percent of Darien high schoolers and 26 percent of middle schoolers reported that they did not feel in control of their lives or their future.
Moreover, this is a long-range problem. A review study published in November 2020, involving 52,000 children and adolescents, shows that isolation is directly associated with depression. The researchers found that social isolation and loneliness could predict future mental health problems in children and adolescents not only during the period of isolation but also for years afterward.
Fairfield Marijuana Use Among Teens
Data indicates that Fairfield marijuana use among teens is more prevalent than parents think it is. The most recent survey of Darien students, conducted in 2018 and including data from more than a thousand teens, found that 11 percent of 10th graders, 20 percent of 11th graders, and 30 percent of 12th graders had used marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey. The Task Force researchers drew several conclusions from the data, including this statement: “Teens in our community are using alcohol, marijuana, and vaping more, and starting earlier, than we think.”
Statewide, 9 percent of teens in Connecticut use marijuana on a monthly basis, and each year 20,000 teens try marijuana for the first time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). That number increases as teens get older, and as a result more young people require addiction treatment in Fairfield County and other Connecticut counties. Among young adults, 8.4 percent have marijuana use disorder, NIDA reports.
While Connecticut has resisted legalizing recreational marijuana over the last six years, Gov. Ned Lamont is in favor of marijuana legalization, with sales beginning in May 2022. And a poll published last March found that close to two-thirds of the state’s voters now support legalization for adult use. Research on how marijuana legalization affects teen access and usage is mixed. One thing experts agree on, however, is that marijuana use by young people can lead to dependence and to the use of harder and more dangerous drugs. In addition, a recent study linked marijuana use to an increased risk of teen suicide.
Alcohol Rehab in Fairfield County
Binge drinking is a significant problem among Fairfield County teens. The Darien student survey found that more than half (54 percent) of 12th graders engaged in binge drinking in 30 days prior to the survey. That’s more than twice the national average of 24 percent. In addition, the students surveyed did not perceive a high risk in weekly binge drinking, making them more likely to engage in this behavior.
In addition, parents are not aware of the full extent of their children’s alcohol use. Along with underestimating teens’ marijuana use, parents also underestimated how much they drank, the survey showed. While parents of older students were closer to the mark, parents of younger teens didn’t do too well in predicting their children’s drinking rates. Parents estimated that about 3 percent of ninth graders used alcohol in the month before the survey, but in reality, 15 percent had. For 10th graders, the numbers were 20 vs. 32 percent. Statewide, NIDA reports that 13 percent of Connecticut teens drink alcohol at least once per month, and 28,000 teens in the state start drinking each year.
Moreover, the need for alcohol addiction treatment in Fairfield is likely to increase as a result of the pandemic, according to a 2020 report submitted by the Hub, the designated Behavioral Health Action Organization for Southwestern CT, to the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. “Access to alcohol is easier than access to drugs, and is also available to youth who are now at home 24/7. It is a likely coping strategy for many struggling with the stress of the quarantine,” the report stated.
Community Initiatives for Teen Mental Health and Rehab in Fairfield CT
Among the Fairfield County mental health services and agencies is NAMI Fairfield CT, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The chapter conducts online, peer-led support groups twice monthly. NAMI Fairfield CT also offers the NAMI Basics course, a six-week program for parents and caregivers of children and adolescents living with mental illness.
Government agencies also work in the region to launch Fairfield CT mental health and Fairfield rehab initiatives. For example, Fairfield is a designated county in the New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which works to to reduce drug trafficking and its consequences. Furthermore, Greenwich Together, a coalition of community organizations in Greenwich, Connecticut, received a half-million dollar Drug Free Communities Grant of in 2019 to alleviate the substance use problem among minors. The grant went toward enforcing compliance checks in the town’s establishments that sell alcohol.
In addition, in late 2020, Connecticut implemented the National Center for School Mental Health’s School Health Assessment and Performance Evaluation System (SHAPE). SHAPE is a public access, web-based platform that provides resources for schools, districts, and states to support Fairfield County mental health and the mental health of teens throughout the state.
Accessing Fairfield County Mental Health Services
When researching Fairfield County mental health options for a teen or young adult, look for residential, outpatient, or intensive outpatient CT mental health programs that provide integrated care—addressing all aspects of an adolescent’s well-being to ensure sustainable healing. In addition, the most highly rated mental health programs have licensed clinical staff providing care, are accredited by the Joint Commission of Behavioral Health Care, and conduct ongoing independent research on their outcomes.
Teens and families seeking Fairfield County mental health services can find support at Newport Academy. We are a different kind of teen rehab—we treat the entire family to create long-term recovery from substance abuse and mental health challenges. Call now for more information. Whether or not Newport is the right choice for your family, our Admissions Counselors will help you find a Fairfield rehab or mental health program that addresses your needs. We’re here to help.
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The State of Mental Health in America 2021
Behavioral Health Barometer, Connecticut, Volume 6