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Doctors worry as mental health issues with children increase during pandemic

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Posted at 7:07 AM, Dec 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-29 07:59:38-05

TAMPA — The CDC recently released a study that shows children related mental health emergency room visits started to increase in April, and visits have continued to stay high during the pandemic.

“Throughout the pandemic for COVID-19, we’ve been very concerned about the mental health of our children, our adolescents, and our families," said Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, Director of Psychology and Neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Doctors say this is a concern as we head into potentially several more months of the pandemic and a current surge in cases.

“We’ve seen a number of children presenting with increased anxiety, increased difficulty separating from their parents or potentially returning to school, increasing signs of depression, increased suicidal ideation and also increased substance abuse and overdoses as well,” Katzenstein.

“We were in a mental health epidemic even before the pandemic and so time will really tell in terms of what things will look like on the other side," she added.

With such an increase in mental health issues in children this year, health experts say it’s critical parents are paying attention.

For younger children and toddlers, doctors say parents should look out for:

  • An increase in disruptive behavior
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Attachment issues like being more clingy
  • Irritability

For school-aged children and adolescents, experts want parents to watch for:

  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • More negative self-talk
  • Staying away from family more
  • Increased irritability

“Especially for adolescents and young adults who are expecting some rights of passage during this time and maybe are seeing their world a little bit differently than they expected things to go this year, really watching for that irritability and changes in previously enjoyed activities, not communicating with their friends as much,” said Katzenstein.

If you do notice a change in your child’s mental health, experts say you should reach out to your pediatrician first, then talk to a mental health counselor and seek treatment if it’s necessary.

In order to help children deal with their mental health issues during this pandemic, Katzenstein says prevention is key.

She encourages parents to do things like:

  • Help children maintain good sleep schedules
  • Help children maintain some type of social connections
  • Find ways to reduce stress as a family
  • Sit down with kids and have open conversations about how they’re feeling

“Putting our devices away, asking them what they’re thinking about and what they’re feeling and letting them guide the conversation. Giving those daily times where even if it’s 5 minutes, sitting down together, remove all the distractions and as parents not asking them question after question but really letting out kids guide the conversation,” said Katzenstein.