Most parents probably can’t imagine their own son or daughter saying he or she would rather not live anymore. Unfortunately, that nightmare has become a reality for more moms and dads than ever before thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At Wolfson Children’s Hospital, there has been a 300% increase in behavioral health admissions since the pandemic began in early 2020. Many of these include intentional overdoses, overwhelming anxiety and depression, and eating disorders.
Terrie Andrews, PhD, clinical psychologist and vice president of Baptist Behavioral Health and Wolfson Children’s Behavioral Health, said that while precautions like sheltering in place and avoiding large gatherings are key to halting the pandemic, they take a toll on kids’ mental well-being. These measures can also make it harder for kids already dealing with mental health hurdles to stay on track.
“Isolation is not good for anyone, especially for teens who rely on their social support systems for developmental growth,” Dr. Andrews said. “The break from usual routine has been tough on teens too. I would recommend parents communicate patiently and openly with kids and teens who are already struggling with mental health concerns and provide a safe space for children to voice how they are feeling.”
Watch for red flags
While children and teens may show recognizable signs of mental distress, like sleeping too much or too little or withdrawing from others, they often have symptoms parents may not expect. These can include:
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches with no physical cause
- Increased irritability or frequent tantrums
- Sudden drop in grades
- Sudden loss of interest in things the child used to enjoy
- Frequent discussion of worries or fears
- Use of statements like, “I want to go to sleep and not wake up,” or, “I just don’t want to feel anything anymore”
Start a conversation
If your child is exhibiting any of these concerning behaviors or has made similar remarks, don’t brush it off. It’s easy to think a teenager is just being dramatic, or a 12-year-old could never feel suicidal, but parents should take these things as signs to intervene.
“Ask open-ended questions rather than yes or no questions. There are times teens are not ready to talk, but even just sitting in the room with them can be helpful and comforting,” said Dr. Andrews. “For younger kids or children with limited verbal skills, drawing and creating art can be helpful. While the children are coloring or drawing, ask those open-ended questions. Doing so can provide a safe space for young children to freely talk.”
Get help anytime, anywhere
Wolfson Children’s Hospital offers a 24/7 Kids & Teens Helpline (904.202.7900). All calls are answered by trained mental health experts, and conversations are free and confidential. Those who answer the phone can provide emergency support and assessment, crisis intervention, and referral for follow-up care. (If the situation is life-threatening, call 911 or take your child to the nearest Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center immediately.)
“Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Baptist Health are providing this resource in an effort to support our community and provide resources ahead of a mental health crisis,” said Dr. Andrews. “We want to hear from you or your child to get him or her the necessary care before it’s an emergency.”
Wolfson Children’s Behavioral Health offers a wide range of services for children of all ages. To make an appointment, call 904.376.3800. If you need to speak to someone immediately, call the 24/7 Kids & Teens Helpline at 904.202.7900 or text LIFE to 741741.