EPHRATA, Pa. — As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and children are largely back to full-time, in-person learning, the CDC is reporting a rise in mental health-related visits for children at hospitals.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from May to Oct. 2020, emergency room visits from children 5 to 11-years-old spiked 24%. Children ages 12 to 17 saw an increase of 31% more trips to the E.R. for mental health issues.
"I was talking with my pediatrician friends and they said they would be waiting two to six months to see a psychiatrist," Dr. J.P. Shand, medical director of Psychiatric Services at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital said. "And that was pre-pandemic."
Today, Dr. Shand says some area hospitals aren't even putting kids on waitlists, opting for alternative triage methods instead to treat a rising number of children dealing with mental health trauma as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mental health professionals were already taxed before COVID-19 struck. Today, Shand says they're overworked, without enough resources, and it's putting more pressure on parents.
"The best thing a parent can do is help a kid make decisions for themselves independently, and feel empowered in their own decision making process," Shand said.
Unfortunately, he added, is many times parents in today's current sociopolitical climate are acting out, instead.
Masks and vaccines have becomes political issues, with parents engaging in protests at school board meetings and other government centers. In children Dr. Shand sees, it's having, what he says, an "unsettled experience" on kids.
"Yelling at the TV, being totally perturbed or emotionally deregulated, due to the governments or the CDC's or different guidelines changing, that is jarring for the child, at any age, to be honest," he said.
Parents can be a child's greatest influencer, and every time they respond to an outside stressor, their child is looking at how the parent responds. When they see a parent acting out at a school board meeting, or getting riled up watching news coverage, it will impact the child in the next room.
Basically, what Shand is saying is, Mom and Dad, your kids are watching. But there are ways to fix it. If you find yourself getting worked up, he said, there are two options:
- Eliminate that stressor from your life, entirely. Turn off the TV, throw away the newspaper, or don't attend school board meetings, for example.
- Isolate it and utilize it in, what Dr. Shand says, is a cathartic way to teach your child. Or, let out that anger and frustration in a place that's safer and not around children.
If someone needs help and it's an emergency, call 911.
Otherwise, the crisis hotline is 1-800-836-6010 or text HOME to 741741.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.