Hospitals report rise in children needing emergency mental health treatment

Since March, there has been a significant uptick in the number of school-aged kids going to the emergency room since the beginning of the pandemic. New research shows the trips are not for minor mishaps at home, but for things like anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows how the pandemic may be impacting children mentally.

The agency analyzed data from 47 states and found, from March to October, mental health related emergency department visits increased 24% for kids ages 5 to 11 and were up 31% for 12 to 17-year-olds compared to the same time last year.

“And I don’t think that is surprising given the amount of stress everyone is under, but certainly our children and adolescents,” said Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, Director of Psychology and Neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

She says more parents are bringing their kids to the ER because of a mental health crisis or unsafe situation.

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“We know from previous times of pandemic that we’d expect to see increases in anxiety, increases in stress, increases in suicide attempts, overdoses, child abuse and domestic violence as well, and we are seeing,” Katzenstein said.

Experts say the CDC findings reflect the uncertainty and distress kids have been experiencing.  Activities and sports were put on hold, rites of passage like prom and graduation were cancelled, and there were already barriers to accessing mental health care before coronavirus.

“And so when we were already starting out in a situation where we weren’t able to meet those mental health concerns as best we could for our children and adolescents, we superimposed a pandemic on top of that and really exacerbated likely what was already brewing underneath,” said Katzenstein.

She says children should be able to get the help they need before it turns into an emergency, and there are things you can do at home.

It is important for families to have open conversations, make sure your kids are on a good sleep routine, and reinforce healthy coping strategies for high stress situations.

“I think now more than ever this is an amazing time to be connecting with your pediatrician, with your family physician about mental health concerns, just checking in getting that barometer,” Katzenstein said.

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