Isolation Mental Health Check Affects Children Back to School

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After two suicide attacks during pandemic isolation, 16-year-old Zach Sampson feels stronger but fears his social skills are stale.

Amara Bhatia has overcome her pandemic depression, but the teenager feels exhausted, in a state of “neutrality”. Virginia Shipp adapts but says getting back to normal “is a little abnormal for me.”

After relentless months of social distancing, online schooling and other restrictions, many children are feeling the consequences of the pandemic or facing new challenges when they go back to school.

An increase in teen suicide attempts and other mental health crises prompted the Colorado Children’s Hospital to declare a state of emergency in late May, when emergency departments and inpatient beds were pulled over. been overwhelmed with suicidal children and people with other psychiatric problems. Typical emergency department wait times for psychiatric treatment doubled in May to around 20 hours, said Jason Williams, a pediatric psychologist at Aurora Hospital.

Other children’s hospitals face similar challenges.

Normally, the activities that take place at the end of the school year – finals, prom, graduation, summer job hunting – can be stressful for even the most resilient children. But after more than a year of dealing with pandemic restrictions, many are exhausted and simply don’t have “enough in the resilience pool” to deal with stresses that would previously have been manageable, Williams said.

“When the pandemic first hit, we saw an increase in severe cases in the assessment of the crisis,” as children struggled “shutting down their entire world,” said Christine Certain, a counselor. in Mental Health who works with the Arnold Palmer Hospital of Orlando Health for Children. “Now, as we see the world opening up again,… it asks these kids to make a huge change again. “

In some children’s hospitals, psychiatric cases have remained high throughout the pandemic; others have seen a more recent increase.

At the Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla., Admissions to behavioral units for children in crisis aged 13 and under have skyrocketed since 2020 and are expected to reach 230 this year, more than four times higher than ‘in 2019, said hospital psychologist Terrie Andrews. . For older teens, admissions were up to five times higher than usual last year and remained high last month.

At the Dayton Children’s Hospital in Ohio, admissions to the mental health unit increased 30% from July 2020 to May, to a total of nearly 1,300. The hospital doubled the number of beds available to 24 and lowered the minimum age for treatment from 12 to 9, said Dr John Duby, vice president of the hospital.

“The overwhelming demand for pediatric mental health services is putting unprecedented pressure on pediatric facilities, primary care, schools and community organizations that support children’s well-being,” said Amy Knight, President of the Children’s Hospital Association.

Dr Alison Tothy, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago, said her emergency department has seen children in crisis daily for the past year since last year, struggling with suicidal thoughts , cuts and other self-injurious, depressive and aggressive behaviors. shards. The children are stabilized and referred elsewhere for treatment.

“Families come to us because we are, in some cases, the last resort. Outpatient resources are scarce, ” and parents say they can’t get an appointment for two months, she said.

In Florida, wait times for outpatient treatment are even longer and many therapists do not accept children insured through Medicaid, Andrews said.

At the Colorado Children’s Hospital, emergency room visits for behavioral health issues increased 90% in April 2021 from April 2019 and remained high in May. Although the pace slowed in June, hospital authorities are worried about another spike when classes resume.

Williams said the problems treated by the hospital are “widespread”, from children who have had mental health issues before that worsened to those who never struggled before the pandemic.

Like many states, Colorado does not have enough child and adolescent mental health therapists to meet demand, a problem even before the pandemic, Williams said.

Children who need outpatient treatment find that it takes six to nine months to get an appointment. And many therapists do not accept health insurance, leaving struggling families with few options. Delays in treatment can lead to seizures that lead children to the emergency room.

Those who improve after inpatient psychiatric care but aren’t well enough to return home are sent out of state because there aren’t enough facilities in Colorado, Williams said.


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