ANDERSON — The American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations, now considers children’s mental health a national emergency.
On top of daily challenges children face, the COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to children’s mental health issues.
“Young people have endured so much throughout this pandemic and while much of the attention is often placed on its physical health consequences, we cannot overlook the escalating mental health crisis facing our patients,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers said in an October AAP article. “Today’s declaration is an urgent call to policymakers at all levels of government — we must treat this mental health crisis like the emergency it is.”
Before the pandemic, rates of mental health diagnosis as well as suicide rates among young people had been steadily increasing. In 2018, suicide was the No. 1 cause of death for people 10-24.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from March to October 2020, mental health emergency visits increased by 24% in kids 5-11 and 31% in youngsters 12-17.
Declaring children’s mental health a national emergency allows for more attention to be brought to this issue.
“We have the opportunity to get information out to parents to help them to be aware of what may be happening with their children and when it’s time to seek help,” said Jennie Voelker, a licensed clinical social worker and clinical director of Youth Services with Community Health Network.
One way to help children’s mental health is by letting them express themselves. This not only includes talking to someone about their feelings but letting them play, make art, write or anything else that they enjoy doing.
Voelker also wants parents and guardians to remember that they are the role model for their children.
“If adults are taking care of themselves when they’re struggling with stress and emotional health, then their children will see that,” Voelker said. “They will learn from that, and they will model after that.”
In children, changes in mood or behavior can be helpful indicators. Increased or decreased expression of emotions can be an indicator a child is struggling. Another indicator is if a child suddenly loses interest in things normally enjoyed.
Voelker also mentioned that the use of alcohol or drugs can sometimes be a sign that a child is struggling mentally.
“I really do believe that parents are the experts on their children, so if your gut tells you something’s not right, that’s the time to be checking in,” Voelker said.
If any child or teenage talks about suicide, it is critical that they be taken seriously.
“That is a time to really seek help, and there are options out there. There are lots of 24-hour call lines (and) text lines that we can get help from.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour call line that can be reached at 800-273-8255. One can also text IN to 741741, a 24-hour text help line.