Mental health professionals in the region are seeing an alarming increase in the number of pediatric patients suffering from mental health problems and suicidal thoughts, even as their caregivers deal with the loss of colleagues, fatigue and health problems mental.
Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein is director of psychology, neuropsychology and social work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. She said All Children’s has witnessed a 30% increase in referrals of outpatients and children admitted to hospital with thoughts of self-harm, suicide attempts, overdoses and suffering from child abuse. children in the first year of the pandemic. Now it looks like the situation is getting worse.
While Katzenstein thought the number of pediatric patients with mental health issues had peaked and plateaued, the past two months have proven otherwise.
“Even in the last six weeks or so we have seen a further increase in the number of children attempting suicide,” she said. “Certainly in the last couple of months I’ve seen a slight uptick again.”
Katzenstein said the increase is due to several factors, including a continued sense of uncertainty, isolation, grief, political tensions and greater social responsibility among teens — all of which amplify feelings of distress. Additionally, medical professionals realized they were in the midst of a mental health epidemic even before Covid swept the country. Katzenstein said the workforce was insufficient to meet the needs of children and families, and the pandemic has exacerbated the problem.
Prior to the pandemic, Katzenstein said one in five children suffered from depression, and doctors were able to diagnose about 75% of children with a mental health condition before they turned 17. She added that children waited an average of 10 years for proper diagnosis and treatment before the pandemic. increased workload and reduced number of qualified professionals.
“And since that time, we’ve seen increased uncertainty cause more anxiety and depression,” Katzenstein said. “And now some interesting data has come out showing that over 140,000 children have also lost their primary carer to Covid.”
She added that questions surrounding a return to a sense of normalcy have compounded the stress accumulated over two years of disruption, isolation for children – and patients are not the only ones struggling.
“Our helpers, who have been helping throughout the pandemic, also need help now,” Katzenstein said. “They are exhausted and exhausted, and the demand for mental health services continues to increase…”
Katzenstein said she was unaware of data specifically comparing the rise in pediatric mental health problems with adults. However, researchers predict that 25-30% of children are affected by anxiety and depression, and she said recent papers suggest that 40% of adults have experienced significant anxiety and distress in the past year. .
The most common diagnoses among teens are anxiety and depression, Katzenstein said, and many experience loss and grief that lead to PTSD or acute stress. She sees more disruptive behaviors and sleep disturbances in young children and toddlers.
Katzenstein said medical professionals also notice different kinds of stressors among different groups in the community. She noted that underserved populations already face barriers to accessing health care, and the pandemic has resulted in even greater financial burdens for these groups.
“We saw a greater impact on these populations,” Katzenstein said. “Additionally, we know that if we have a child who had mental health issues before the pandemic, they are also more likely to have increased mental health issues during the pandemic.”
Katzenstein said treatment depends on the severity of the disease. If a child has significant suicidal thoughts or has attempted suicide, medical professionals connect them to services through a Baker Act foster facility. The hospital provides less severe cases with therapy, either in an individual or family setting.
The pandemic has also prompted caregivers to reassess their delivery of treatments, including individual and group virtual therapy sessions.
“So we try to accommodate our families to give them the best possible care,” Katzenstein said. “While growing our volumes as much as we can as well.”
Katzenstein encourages parents to set aside distraction-free time to watch their children every day. She said it’s essential to monitor who children talk to, who they are friends with and what activities they enjoy. If there are changes in these patterns, or if the child becomes more anxious, sad, or depressed, then parents need to know that something is wrong.
More importantly, Katzenstein insisted on taking the time to just listen to the kids. If a child shares something they find distressing, she said to take it seriously and seek care.
Katzenstein relayed one aspect of the pandemic that she called incredible — the attention she has given to mental health. The Surgeon General released a report calling for more attention and advocacy for children’s mental health, and the Association of Children’s Hospitals recently issued a call to action classifying children’s mental health as an emergency. .
“So we paid a lot of attention to that,” Katzenstein said. “We certainly have some in our community, and others in the area continue to focus on what we can do.
“I’m optimistic in the future that we could not only get back to where we were, but we could also provide better care and much better early recognition so that our children and families can get what they need.”
For tips on supporting the emotional and behavioral health needs of children, teens, and families, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website here.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available anytime, day or night at 800-273-TALK (8255). The Crisis Text Line also provides confidential support for people in crisis by texting 741741.