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#JamesDonaldson on #MentalHealth – #Children Face Added #MentalHealth Struggles During #Pandemic

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#School closures, social restrictions and home #stress exact a heavy toll

By Sandhya Raman

Psychiatrist Tami Benton was recently called to the emergency department about a child whose family had concerns about the girl’s suicidal threats to run into traffic and end her life.

The child was only 5 years old.

Both of the child’s #parents had lost their jobs. The mother was struggling with #depression, stressed by the demands of the #pandemic.

“I asked her what she thought would happen when she died. She responded that I will come back tomorrow and I’ll be a good girl and my parents will be happy again,” Benton, who leads the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia child and #adolescent psychiatry and #behavioral sciences department, testified to Congress in April.

“Even more disturbing to me was my inability to provide an appropriate avenue for care for this youngster and her family. The option that I provided for her maintained safety but did not provide the care she needed and prevented other #children from having a medical bed that was desperately needed during that time,” Benton said. “I wish that I could say that this story was an uncommon one, but it’s increasingly common in our emergency departments.”

The #COVID-19 #pandemic has taxed the nation’s #mentalhealthsystem, and youth have been harshly affected. #Children have been impacted by social restrictions, school closures, parental health and family financial stressors. Experts also worry about reduced availability to school-based resources and limited access to outdoor activities.

“#Children are uniquely suffering in ways we have barely begun to grasp. #Isolation, #depression, loss of sleep, loss of appetite, the rise in self-harm,” Michelle A. Williams, dean of the faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said at a briefing. “This is nothing less than a crisis.”

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

Growing problem

Hospitals saw a 24 percent increase in #mentalhealth emergency department visits by kids who were 5 to 11 years old between April and October of 2020, according to Children’s Hospital Association data. For children who were ages 12 to 17, that number rose 31 percent.

A separate poll that the #AmericanPsychiatricAssociation, or APA, released on May 2 found that 48 percent of #parents said the #pandemic contributed to #mentalhealthproblems for at least one of their #children. About half of surveyed parents said their #child had some care from a #mentalhealthprofessional, and 26 percent said the #mentalhealthcare was specifically due to the #pandemic.

More than 1 in 5 of the #parents surveyed had trouble finding an appointment with a #mentalhealth practitioner such as a psychiatrist or social worker.

“This poll shows that even as vaccines become more widespread, #Americans are still worried about the #mental state of their #children,” said APA President Jeffrey Geller. “This is a call to action for policymakers, who need to remember that in our #COVID-19 recovery, there’s no health without #mentalhealth.”

Amy Knight, president of the Children’s Hospital Association, said the #pandemic exacerbated an already growing problem.

“Many kids that may have been coping, or appeared to be coping, during normal times, the #pandemic just exacerbated feelings they were having,” she said.

A study in the March edition of the #American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal compared #suicideideation rates and attempts among young people ages 11 to 21 from January to July 2020 and in the same period the previous year.

“Months with significantly higher rates of #suicide-related behaviors appear to correspond to times when #COVID-19-related stressors and community responses were heightened, indicating that youth experienced elevated distress during these periods,” the study reads.

“They’re no longer having those normal interactions, so by the time it becomes an issue, it’s a significant issue,” said Knight. “And kids shouldn’t be seen in an emergency room for those kinds of things, you know. We should be intervening much earlier.”

Policy proposals

Lawmakers have introduced a number of #mentalhealth proposals but have been largely focused on #adults, who may have different needs.

Knight said she hopes the Biden administration’s infrastructure plan being debated in Congress will include workforce development and loan forgiveness funding to enhance children’s #mentalhealthcare.

“We are pressing forward so that it will be included,” she said, adding that previous legislation had “vague opportunities” for funding but “not a lot of direct funding for #pediatric #behavioralhealth.”

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra cited a “historic investment in #behavioralhealth” while speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee last week.

“We want to make sure we do everything that we can to address the stresses that our children have been facing,” he said.

During a House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in March, Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said while the committee has made some strides, like funding the National Child Traumatic #Stress Network, more should be done.

“We need to be thinking on a more long-term scale,” she said.

Lisa Amaya-Jackson, co-director of the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic #Stress, touted six priorities to the Appropriations subcommittee: ensuring that families have basic resources; supporting evidence-based services; helping #schools implement programs on trauma; supporting systems that serve youth, such as juvenile justice and foster care; funding research; and prioritizing the needs of at-risk youth.

Last week, both chambers took a step toward addressing #mentalhealth needs by passing legislation.

The House passed a series of #mentalhealth bills last week en bloc by voice vote, including one to reauthorize and expand grants for school-based #mentalhealth programs at $130 million per year for five years. Another bill would implement #student #suicide awareness and prevention training policies in #schools. Another would improve research and outreach efforts and develop training for culturally competent providers to address #mentalhealthdisparities among #minority youth.

The House on May 13 also passed, 323-93, a bill to require HHS to develop guidelines for #behavioral intervention teams in #schools.

The Senate on May 12 passed by voice vote a bill to require #schools to include phone numbers for crisis resources on student identification cards or the school’s website.

Other bills specifically address children’s #mentalhealth needs.

Still awaiting action is bipartisan legislation that would examine the #mentalhealth impact of the #pandemic on #children and health care workers and authorize $100 million per year for five years for the #NationalInstituteofMentalHealth.

Lifelong effects

Andrea Smyth, executive director of the New York State Coalition for Children’s #BehavioralHealth, said if disruptions to children’s mental well-being aren’t addressed, they can affect a person’s entire life.

“Having the right interventions at the right moment can have a positive impact for years and even generations to come,” she said in March while advocating for the bill. 

Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., also hinted in April that she plans to introduce a bipartisan bill to expand access to #suicideawareness and prevention training for #students to address rising youth #suicide rates.

The expansion of telehealth helped many individuals seeking #mentalhealth care during the #pandemic, and advocates want to make it easier for states to permanently implement tele-access to #behavioralhealth even after the public health emergency ends. The scope of telehealth coverage in Medicaid varies by state.

“While most people, including most #children, will likely adapt and recover well as we emerge from the #pandemic, we know from previous research that for some, the #mentalhealth impacts of this trauma and distress will continue to have repercussions into the future,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin. “We need to be prepared to help those who need it in the coming months and years.”

man in white crew neck t shirt sitting with his kids
Photo by KoolShooters on Pexels.com
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