Los Angeles Times bestselling author Dr. Venus Nicolino, Ph.D., is sharing why the mental health of American adolescents is plunging to unknown depths of anxiety and despair — and how best to address the crisis. As a renowned doctor of clinical psychology, Nicolino routinely analyzes data in her field, so she knew teens’ mental health was declining precipitously before the COVID-19 epidemic barreled through our lives.
That said, the pandemic unveiled one public health crisis after another — contagion, illness, death, fear, and isolation. Dr. Nicolino recognized the global crisis as another anxiety added to teens’ worries about grades, gun violence, and more.
“Kids today face a tidal wave of new pressures and threats adults never had to deal with growing up,” Dr. Venus Nicolino explains. “They see highlight reels of doom based on news reports, which are then rehashed by reaction videos. Every problem in the world pops up on kids’ social media feeds. The world’s weight is in their faces and on their shoulders.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released grim numbers illustrating the escalating mental health crisis among teens. More than 4 in 10 American adolescents feel “persistently sad or hopeless.” Such symptoms of despair were already on the rise. Teens experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26% to 37% between 2009 and 2019 and reached 44% in 2021. Alarmingly, 1 in 5 teens has contemplated suicide.
Debra Houry, a deputy director at the CDC, described these numbers as a cry for help: “The COVID-19 pandemic has created traumatic stressors that have the potential to further erode students’ mental well-being.”
Dr. Venus Nicolino Says SoundMind, an EdTech Program, Is a Helpful Tool When Psychological Care Isn’t Available
COVID’s death toll didn’t wallop teens as it did adults and seniors, but living through a global catastrophe changed them. While the U.S. government tamped down the public health crisis of COVID, its psychological aftereffects left youths reeling and parents worried about their mental states. Data published by the Pew Research Center shows that 40% of parents are “apprehensive” about anxiety or depression distressing their children younger than 18.
The CDC survey also offers hope, noting that teens who feel connected at school report much lower rates of poor mental health. The finding underscores educators’ critical role in a student’s mental health.
“Moodiness in teens and preteens is expected, but if they are engaged at school, have friends, and regularly participate in family activities, those are good signs,” says Nicolino.
“Don’t let red flags pile up or check to see what shade of red it is,” she adds. “We have to take action when we spot troubling signs. Parents and teachers have instincts; please use them.”
Educators can assess adolescents’ behaviors in school to identify their mental health needs. Such professional observation becomes a safety net during school hours. If a therapist works at a school, all the better. Unfortunately, the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of therapists, psychiatrists, and long-term mental health facilities. Few Americans receive adequate psychiatric or psychological care; reasons range from long wait lists for treatment to a lack of insurance coverage.
“Most of our current mental health solutions are painfully slow and embarrassingly ineffective,” Nicolino states.
The shortage of mental health care prompted Dr. Nicolino to invest in SoundMind, a digital app that employs music therapy to ease users’ trauma, depression, and anxiety. She recommends the app to help adults understand adolescents’ mental health issues better.
“SoundMind offers mental health therapy to any young person anywhere,” she says. “SoundMind can help young people get a little further down the road with every download. Often, a few minutes worth of positive feelings produces hope, which can carry a person through the day.”
How SoundMind’s Co-Founders Travis Chen and Brian Femminella Launched the App
Travis Chen and Brian Femminella developed SoundMind while attending the University of Southern California during COVID. After witnessing America’s scant psychological services, they launched the app in November 2021. Dr. Venus Nicolino saw the app’s potential, joined Chen and Femminella then invested in the company they co-founded, SoundMind Corporation.
Like Dr. Nicolino, Chen and Femminella observed disturbing data about the mental health of American youths. In an interview with WJLA, Washington, D.C.’s ABC affiliate, Chen described the need for psychological services outside of a doctor’s office. “As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic — and also with the increase in school shootings — anxiety levels and depression levels are just through the roof,” Chen told WJLA.
SoundMind, a mental-wellness app, is clinically proven to reduce users’ anxiety and stress while improving their concentration, focus, and sleep. A composing team creates specialized audio therapy. To give the app some personality, users can create a custom character called a “soundie” as a mental health “buddy.” The app also connects users with resources like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
As a 24/7 resource for mental health support, SoundMind is always a smartphone away. It’s a boon to those in need, Dr. Nicolino says.
“Tools like SoundMind can help youth and parents and administrators with transparency into student mental health,” Nicolino explains. “SoundMind helps with students’ mind management by eliminating the lack of understanding of youth emotions. It puts teachers in the know.
“Our platform meets the students where they are and grows with them as they continue to develop.”