Mental health crisis erupts in young children

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The youngest patient in Jackie’s care who had recently attempted suicide was 8 years old. She survived, but another child, also under 13, was not so lucky and became an organ donor. Jackie said most of the kids who come in after suicide attempts are girls who overdosed on painkillers, like Tylenol. Some of them are now facing liver damage. Once, after a particularly difficult day at work, Jackie called her husband and asked him to lock up all of the Tylenol and Motrin in their house.

“I never want to think that we are immune from these things,” she said.

Even before the pandemic, a mental health crisis loomed among children struggling with bullying, abuse, eating disorders, racism or undiagnosed mental health issues. But now children face even more stressors, such as losing a family member to Covid-19, adjusting to distant school or anxiety about going back to school. in person.

“It’s almost as if the pandemic is throwing gasoline on embers that are already glowing,” said Heather C. Huszti, chief psychologist at Orange County Children’s Hospital in Orange, California. “We have never seen him so badly.”

For young children, the pain can seem endless.

“It’s like, ‘This is my life now. Do I have something to look forward to?’ “Dr Huszti said.” Because they just can’t think long term. “

CHOC, where Dr Huszti works, has the only hospital psychiatric center in Orange County that can accommodate children under the age of 12. To be admitted to one of the centre’s 18 beds, a child must represent a current or imminent threat to himself or to others. When the center opened in 2018, around 10% of the children were under 12. In 2020, that number started to increase and has now more than doubled, Dr Huszti said.

“We have days when every child in the unit is under 12,” she said.

National data show a similar trend. In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study comparing how often children go to the emergency room in the United States for mental health reasons versus other types of problems. The agency found that between April and October 2020, there was a 24% increase in the proportion of mental health emergency department visits for children aged 5 to 11 compared to the same period. in 2019.

The problem appears to be particularly serious among girls. In 2019 and 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency room visits was higher for girls under 18 than boys of the same age, the CDC reported.


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