According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children visiting emergency departments nationwide for mental health-related issues increased beginning in April and remained high through October.
“Compared with 2019, the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5-11 and 12-17 years increased approximately 24 percent and 31 percent, respectively,” the researchers reported.
The pandemic is largely to blame, experts say. Not only has the entire nation been anxious since the outbreak, but children who used to be screened in school for mental health problems now aren’t in school at all, or are there less frequently. Therefore, many of their issues aren’t as visible, and support isn’t as easy to access.
As a result, youth suicides and drug use are rising nationwide.
What to watch for
Parents should be on the alert for signs that their children are having trouble coping.
- withdrawal from family
- spending time alone in their rooms in the dark
- not communicating with friends
- sleep disturbances, either sleeping more or less
- changes in appetite
- younger children becoming irritable or cranky for long periods
How to help
Mental health professionals say it’s important to talk to kids about their mental health, just as you would about their physical health.
Let them know that you’re a safe person to talk to.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Doreen Marshall told PBS’s WFYI in Indianapolis last month that it’s vital to talk to them if you notice changes in behavior and mood. She recommends talking with young children about their emotions and how to express themselves. And be forthright with teens about whether they’ve had thoughts of suicide.
“And then allowing for it to evolve from there, reassuring kids and teens, ‘If you ever want to talk about something that’s distressing you, or if your feelings are ever confusing to you, I’m somebody that you can talk to, and we can help you get help if that’s what’s needed.’ ”
If you or your child are having trouble coping with the fallout from the pandemic, talk to your doctor, or contact:
- Disaster Distress Helpline: Call or text 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-HELP (4357)