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Family First with FOX43: COVID stress in kids

Child psychiatrists say they're seeing children check into the emergency room with mental health issues in increasing numbers.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Hospitals across the country are already getting overcrowded with COVID-19 patients. Now, as the pandemic nears its one-year mark in America, doctors say their emergency rooms are being filled with an unlikely source: children.

According to mental health professionals, kids, as young as five years old, are struggling so much with their mental health during the pandemic, that they are landing in the hospital because of aggression, suicidal thoughts, and even trying to hurt themselves. 

Doctor J.P. Shand, a child psychiatrist with the Wellspan Health Network, says he has seen multiple children in emergency rooms across Lancaster County in the past week alone. 


"When kids are home at the house, they want attention. Now, you're being pulled in different directions, meetings, zooms, and your kid is right there," Shand says. "You can see them right there, and you can't give them the time or attention they need and expect when you're present."

RELATED: Family First with FOX43: Study finds 1 in 4 young adults "strongly considered" suicide during COVID-19 pandemic

Doctors say that is when kids simply cannot cope. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from April to October 2020, mental health emergency visits for children ages 5 through 11 went up 24 percent, and for kids 12 years old through 17, those visits went up by 31 percent.

"What that results in is a backlog going into the ER and that results in a backlog into the community thinking they have no options," Shand says.

Parents can start helping their kids by listening more. The pandemic has been frustrating for many of us, but children can see and feel that frustration, doctors say. It's important to talk about the pandemic with your kids and how they are feeling daily. 

There is also digital help available, in the form of the Safe2Say Something PA phone app. The app, which is run through the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, allows you to leave anonymous tips if you feel someone needs help, or you can call an anonymous hotline. 

As always, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7. It's number is 800-273-8255.

RELATED: What to do if you think your child is struggling with their mental health