Pandemic Leads to Increased Mental Health Issues for Children
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children are ADHD, behavior problems, anxiety, and depression.
In November, the CDC reported a nearly 25% increase in mental health-related visits to emergency departments for children aged 5-11 and an over 30% increase for children aged 12-17, as compared to 2019.
Nationally, the pandemic has impacted the acute mental health needs of children. Limited socialization opportunities coupled with increased stress on families working and learning at home together has put a strain on everyone.
Manny Rivera, the Child and Youth Single Point of Access (SPOA) Supervisor for the Monroe County Office of Mental Health (MCOMH), confirms that COVID-19 has had a detrimental effect on youth mental health locally as well.
“There has been an increase in runaway events and beds are full in local psychiatric units,” said Rivera, “with an increased demand for residential support services.”
Every county has SPOA contacts like Rivera, whose job is to process referrals for children, adolescents and adults to mental health resources. MCOMH oversees the mental health system and provides funding to a number of community agencies for the provision of mental health services.
Identification and Response
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in five teens and young adults lives with a mental health condition. But with the adolescent brain still developing, it can sometimes be hard for a mandated reporter to discern between disruptive behavior in a child and a cry for help.
Rivera recommends a course specifically designed for any adult working with children to help identify, understand and address signs of mental health challenges and substance use disorders in youth. In Youth Mental Health First Aid, a trained instructor outlines the risk factors and warning signs in children that may lead to a developing mental health problem or addiction concern, and provides an action plan for how to safely respond in both crisis and non-crisis situations.
Most professionals working with youth have encountered the signs of emerging mental health issues. Children who consistently overreact or misperceive a situation may raise a few eyebrows among attentive educators, therapists, doctors, and other mandated reporters. Being on the receiving end of confrontational or offensive words can understandably test your patience but should also raise a red flag.
Some of these behaviors may be age appropriate, but sometimes they are symptoms of underlying and undiagnosed mental health conditions. As a mandated reporter, understanding where you fit in the process of getting help for children dealing with emotional regulation may help protect them against big behaviors and suicidal ideations in the future.
MCOMH mental health services include emergency/crisis services, inpatient treatment, outpatient client therapy and psychological services, residential/housing services, and community-based support programs.
Since March, telehealth visits and therapy sessions have become the norm for continuum of care. In-person visits for high-need families can be requested, but all involved must follow Monroe County guidelines and CDC safety protocols for COVID-19 if approved.
Community programs are for children who could benefit from extra support through mentoring/skill builders, exercise and recreation, socialization, or self-care to promote healthy living. These free services are tied to the child’s mental health treatment plan and have included non-clinical activities like gym memberships, yoga classes, boxing and horseback riding lessons, and even covered non-traditional items such as video games, headsets, and GPS communicator watches.
Remote and hybrid learning have decreased access to teachers and other adults outside the family who form the child’s extended support network. Mandated reporters must now be hyper vigilant to identify and respond to the signs and symptoms of mental health issues.
Rivera recommends reinforcing structure into our daily routines, with check-ins and regular activities. He stresses the importance of developing a relationship of trust with children.
“Allowing kids to feel safe and comfortable to express themselves goes a long way, when they know they can’t push you away,” said Rivera
In fostering a non-judgmental relationship, caring adults must be up front with youth about what they are required to report. Talking about their feelings may be a relief for some children, but Rivera said to be sure to clarify that you can’t keep any secrets, for the child’s safety.
The pandemic has forced everyone to rethink how we live, work, and learn, through problem solving, creative workarounds, and breaking down access barriers. When you see a child is struggling mentally, speak with the child’s family to discuss available supports (non-clinical interventions and clinical mental health treatment) as soon as possible. Rivera concluded, “Help is out there.”
- Children and Youth Single Point of Access (SPOA)https://www.monroecounty.gov/mh-CYSPOANew
- Youth Mental Health First Aid
- Spreading Wellness Around Town (SWAT) Youth Council
- COVID-19 Parental Resources Kit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/parental-resource-kit/index.html
Where to Call for Help
- 211 Helpline
Free and confidential assistance connecting to vital services within the community.
- Monroe Mobile Crisis Team (extension of Strong ER)
Triage, assessments, and connections to clinics for mental health emergency or crisis that is non-violent, does not involve intoxication or require police presence.
For imminent or violent mental health crisis that involves risk of injury or death. Ask for CIT (clinical intervention trained) officer.
Foster Parents Needed
Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent? The need for foster parents is greater than it has ever been, and many mandated reporters have exactly the skills needed to give a kid in foster care the stable and loving home they so desperately need. Will you step up? To learn more, come to an information session.
- We’ve scheduled an “after school” session on Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. For that session and a full list of other dates and times, go to MonroeFosterCare.org
Neglect occurs when a parent (or person legally responsible) fails to provide a minimum level of care by doing something that inflicts harm, allows harm to be inflicted, or creates an imminent danger of harm. The harm, however, does not result in the kind of serious physical injury that is defined as physical abuse.
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