Pandemic continues to take a toll on mental health for children and teens

covid kids mental health
Posted at 8:02 AM, Mar 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-14 08:13:32-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Experts say mental health-related issues in older children are on the rise in Tampa Bay, getting worse as the pandemic continues.

Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

They called for several things like increased funding in mental health resources and better care for students with mental health concerns in schools.

“We continue to see an increase in anxiety, depression, suicide attempts and also disordered eating,” said Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, Pediatric Neuropsychologist for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

RELATED: 'National emergency' in children's mental health now a crisis, doctors say

“Really a steady number of patients coming into our hospital, both our inpatient care as well as requesting outpatient services for children and adolescents,” said Katzenstein.

“So for the majority of our older adolescents being hospitalized, most likely those are due to behavior health effects whether they have to be Baker Acted or complications of underlying illness and COVID not being their primary presenting symptoms,” said Dr. Christina Canody, BayCare Pediatric Service Line Medical Director.

We were in a mental health epidemic before the pandemic began.

“Before the pandemic, we had too few providers for the needs. We knew one in five kids would need mental health treatment prior to their 17th birthday,” said Katzenstein.

At that point, there already wasn't the necessary workforce to support the growing demand.

“It’s important to think about the access to care because we had insufficient providers prior to the pandemic and now that we’re seeing higher rates than ever of anxiety and depression not only in our kids but also in our parents and our families as a whole... we don’t have enough providers to meet the need that is continuing to build up," said Katzenstein.

RELATED: Florida's new mental health bill would give kids excused absences to see a professional in the field

The statistics for mental health-related issues in hospitals continue to climb.

“There is a component that is the pandemic and the stress that has gone along with the pandemic, the uncertainty, the frustrations that we’ve all felt and certainly the exhaustion and burn out that many of us have felt as well,” said Katzenstein.

Doctors say teens are the most at risk right now.

“Those are our kids who are most likely to make suicide attempts,” said Katzenstein.

This rise is one of the reasons why our local school districts have recently put more money into providing more mental health resources than ever before for students.

“There’s fantastic resources available online, great opportunities for enhancing coping skills and providing even really preventative steps in terms of thinking about meditation each day, mindfulness, and also for parents really thinking about an opportunity for clear communication with our kids, no distractions,” said Katzenstein.

Doctors are growing concerned. These are some of the red flags they want parents to be aware of in older kids:

  • changed behaviors
  • if they aren’t engaged in activities they previously enjoyed
  • they become more withdrawn
  • they aren’t taking as much care in their own self-care

“Increases in hopelessness, feeling down or sad, not talking about their friends or really seeing a decrease in grades, all of those things are things that we want to watch,” said Katzenstein.

To get ahead of these issues, experts recommend parents:

  • spend 10-15 minutes a day with kids uninterrupted
  • talk to their pediatrician about concerns
  • utilize the growing school resources
  • keep a close eye on their social media

“One of the things I always tell parents is make sure that you are on the site your kids are on for social media so you can be watching them. If you need to grab those phones and take a quick look through once again if you notice changes on there, concerning statements. Things that you definitely want to be watching out for,” said Katzenstein.