Salud

El alto costo de la pandemia para la salud mental de los jóvenes en EE.UU

Ansiedad, depresión, autolesiones e incluso suicidios: desde que empezó la pandemia un número creciente de niños y jóvenes en Estados Unidos sufre de trastornos mentales, alertan médicos, educadores, padres y el gobierno.

Millones de estudiantes asisten a clases 100% virtuales, muchos desde marzo, y pasan horas frente a sus computadores, sin jugar o charlar en persona con amigos y maestros, sin clases presenciales de deportes, arte o música.

«Hay mucha soledad para mí y los otros adolescentes (…) Hay días en que me siento realmente triste y un poco desesperanzada. Es como una pesadilla que nunca acaba», dice a la AFP Sarah Frank, una joven de 18 años de Tampa, Florida, que no sale de casa desde marzo porque vive con familiares de alto riesgo si contraen el covid-19.

«Me he perdido cosas que ansiaba tanto en mi último año de secundaria, nunca pude ir a un partido de fútbol americano, no tuve fiesta de graduación», lamenta Frank, que cofundó en julio el State of Mind Project, un sitio con consejos sobre salud física y mental hecho por adolescentes para adolescentes.

Ansiedad y depresión «enormes»

«Los estudiantes sufren, han estado encerrados sin escuela durante casi un año», dice Deanna Caputo, psicóloga y madre de dos niños que desde marzo tienen clases virtuales en una escuela pública de Arlington, Virginia.

Caputo, que integra una asociación de padres que presiona activamente por la reapertura de escuelas en el condado de Arlington, detectó signos de depresión en su hijo de 10 años.

«Dormía hasta el mediodía (…) Comenzó a decir cosas como ‘no soy inteligente’, ‘no sé nada’, ‘no soy bueno para nada'», recuerda Caputo. «Llora todo el tiempo» y «cada día dice que extraña a sus amigos».

«Otros chicos están mucho peor. Solo escucho hablar de niños que son medicados», afirma Caputo, que no pudo hallar un terapeuta infantil en Arlington por la fuerte demanda.

Los suicidios de adolescentes están en alza en Estados Unidos hace una década y aún no hay datos para 2020.

Pero en el condado de Clark en Nevada, que incluye a Las Vegas, 19 estudiantes se suicidaron desde marzo, más del doble que en el mismo periodo de 2019. Aunque las muertes no pueden vincularse directamente a la pandemia, las autoridades se apresuraron a anunciar una próxima reapertura de las escuelas.

Carlos Arballo, terapeuta en la escuela de enseñanza media Lawrence en un suburbio de Los Ángeles, con clases a distancia desde marzo, asegura que «la ansiedad y la depresión son enormes».

«No tengo casi motivación para hacer la escuela en línea», confiesa Brandon, alumno de una escuela pública de Arlington de 13 años que tiene clases remotas desde hace más de 300 días. «Extraño el contacto social» en salones, en corredores, en la cafetería, dice.

«Una crisis de salud mental»

«Mientras que para los adultos el covid ha sido una crisis médica, para los niños ha sido una crisis de salud mental», asegura Susan Duffy, profesora de pediatría y medicina de urgencia de la Universidad Brown.

Según los Centros para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades (CDC, gubernamental), de marzo a octubre, las visitas a hospitales por emergencias de salud mental de jóvenes de 12 a 17 años subieron un 31% en relación con 2019, y la de los niños de 5 a 11 años, un 24%.

Duffy lo ha confirmado en el gran hospital de Rhode Island donde trabaja. Y tras hablar con colegas de todo el país, dice que han notado «mayores cifras de intentos de suicidio».

«Estamos viendo más chicos con la intención de lastimarse a sí mismos (…), algo más asociado con llevar a cabo intentos de suicidios, lo cual es muy, muy preocupante», señala.

La reapertura de escuelas varía de un distrito escolar a otro. Actualmente, un 38% de las escuelas solo ofrecen clases en línea, contra un 62% en septiembre, según el sitio Burbio, que analiza calendarios escolares.

Los estudiantes «se han quedado sin profesores y adultos comprensivos fuera de su círculo familiar, que muchas veces detectan señales sutiles de una crisis, de depresión, de ansiedad», explica Duffy.

Sin hablar del miedo al virus, el dolor si un familiar ha muerto -la pandemia ha dejado casi 450.000 fallecidos en el país- así como la inseguridad económica, alimentaria y de vivienda generada por la pandemia, añade.

Un reciente informe del CDC asegura que las escuelas son seguras si se toman las precauciones adecuadas, como uso de barbijo y distanciamiento social.

Pero muchos sindicatos se oponen al retorno a las clases, como sucede en Chicago, donde la alcaldesa ordenó la reapertura de las escuelas primarias y el sindicato se niega a ello, exigiendo vacunación para todos los maestros y amenazando con una huelga.

Los niños «son rehenes de los sindicatos», opina Caputo, la psicóloga y madre de Arlington.

La pandemia ha aumentado el riesgo de abuso infantil, alertaron asimismo los CDC.

«Quienes denuncian son muchas veces profesores y escuelas (…) Cuando los padres pierden la esperanza, hay una tendencia hacia la conducta abusiva, y hay alcoholismo, abuso físico y emocional» de los niños, sostiene Caputo.

Algunos niños, no obstante, prefieren las clases en línea porque evitan enfrentar en la escuela presiones sociales o burlas e insultos de compañeros.

Pero la pediatra Duffy asegura que, si bien quedarse en casa «mitiga el problema», no soluciona la causa subyacente y puede llevar a un creciente aislamiento.

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