COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A new report by the CDC finds children ages 5 to 11 are experiencing a 24% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits, and a South Carolina pediatrician says she’s seeing a similar trend.
Researchers with the Center for Disease Control compared emergency department visits from April to October 2020 to the same time in 2019 using data provided by hospitals.
Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a pediatrician with Palmetto Pediatrics and Prisma Health, said the increase in children as young as five and six experiencing depression and anxiety in recent weeks and months is startling.
“I cannot remember the last day that I did not see at least 5 children/teens for anxiety and/or depression related to #COVID19 and virtual school. I cannot imagine that improving any time in the near future,” Greenhouse tweeted.
When asked for any more details on the increase in mental health problems she said it’s gone up about “tenfold” or more.
Greenhouse remembers a recent seven-year-old patient whose mother thought her daughter may have ADHD.
“The child was not focusing well in school, was not completing assignments, did not want to go to her Zoom class when previously this kid had been a good student, and loved school. Also did notice she didn’t want to interact with her friends virtually which she was doing before. And she wasn’t eating well or sleeping well,” Dr. Greenhouse recalled.
Instead of ADHD, Greenhouse attributed the change in behavior to depression related to virtual learning and COVID-19.
“These school problems are the symptom, they are not the underlying problem,” she said.
The solution is to intervene, according to Greenhouse.
“The first thing absolutely, positively, always is counseling for that age group,” Dr. Greenhouse said. She said she believes medication for children should only be considered after a child has had a chance to talk and be heard.
Unfortunately, Greenhouse said counselors are harder to come by considering the increase in anxiety and depression because of COVID-19.
Medical experts advise parents to be on the lookout for certain signs, especially in these hard times.
For young kids, parents should keep an eye out for chronic stomach aches, complaining of headaches, lack of sleep, a change in appetite, more tantrums, and sometimes even reverting to more toddler-like behavior, Greenhouse said.
For older kids, Greenhouse recommends listening closer for verbal signs of depression or anxiety such as “this is stressing me out,” “I’m not able to learn,” or “I’m alone.” Experts also say parents should be looking for physical indications of depressions like signs of cutting or self-harm.
With the holiday season approaching, Greenhouse says it is more important than ever to try and have these conversations with children and family because this time of the year often comes with its own stressors.
“For a lot of folks for various reasons the holidays actually trigger anxiety and depression in and of themselves, even outside of all of this, so that sets us up for an even bigger surge of mental health problems,” Greenhouse said.
If you are feeling depressed or having thoughts of suicide you can call the suicide hotline at 800-273-8255 or text hello to 741741.
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