New numbers show children's mental health issues are on the rise amidst COVID-19

Posted at 4:00 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-27 19:12:41-05

Covid 19 has affected the mental health of adults but new local numbers show it's also affecting children.

"Increased anxiety, increased depression, we've had increased suicide attempts, as well as the uncertainty we've all experienced throughout this time," said Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein, the co-director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.

Katzenstein says kid's mental health issues are on the rise because of this pandemic.

With toddlers, signs can include changes in appetite, toilet behavior, and more.

"Not sleeping through the night. Having more sleep regression where we were waking up more often and more behaviors that are acting out," she explained.

And for school-age kids and teenagers, she says to look for changes in their irritability level.

"So are our kids more easily set off? Are they reacting in a more agitated or frustrated way to small frustrations? And then again changes in sleep, changes in appetite and changes in previously preferred activities?" she asks.

According to Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, from April through November of 2020 there was a 35% increase in children who needed mental health assistance compared to 2019 and an uptick in suicide attempts as well.

So Katzenstein recommends checking in with your child often.

"Have them share with us what their concerns are. As adults, not reacting when they do give those concerns to us, maintaining a really open communication and listening before we respond," she says.

Playing games online or visiting social media sites can also be detrimental to a child's mental health.

So Katzenstein's advice?

Keep on-line activity at a healthy level with no more than two hours per day.

"And then monitoring all of the interaction that your child has on that electronic device really closely, knowing the passwords to the apps, knowing what every app does," she recommends.

And re-assure your child, they can talk to you without you judging.

"As a parent, trying to avoid the problem-solving piece, 'You shouldn't feel sad because your life is so great or you have so many things,' rather 'I'm here for you and I'm listening. Help me understand what I can do.'" she said.

Other tips to help prevent mental health issues for your child?

1. Maintain a good social connection for your child with zoom dates or playing outside safely and make sure he or she sleeps on a consistent schedule.

2. If you need more mental health assistance, reach out to your pediatrician or contact a school counselor so your child can talk to someone.

3. If your child threatens to hurt himself or someone else, you should immediately reach out to the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay call 2-1-1 to get the help needed.