Is the Pandemic Harming Kids’ Mental Health?
By Alan Mozes HealthDay Reporter
FRIDAY, November 13, 2020 (HealthDay) – Since last April, emergency departments in hospitals across the United States have seen a sustained increase in mental health-related visits to school-aged children, a new report reveals.
The results suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on children due to disruption to their daily lives, anxiety about illness and social isolation. This finding comes from a review of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on hospitals in 47 states. These hospitals account for nearly three-quarters of emergency department visits nationwide.
The study followed emergency visits involving children under the age of 18 who sought care for a mental health problem between January 1 and October 17, 2020.
“Our study looked at a composite group of mental health problems that included conditions likely to increase during and after a public health emergency, such as stress, anxiety, acute post-traumatic stress disorder, and panic.” said lead author Rebecca Leeb, a health scientist at the CDC in Atlanta who is part of its COVID-19 response team.
“We found that from March to October, the proportion of mental health-related emergency room visits increased by 24% for children aged 5 to 11 and by 31% for adolescents aged 12 to 17, for example. compared to 2019, ”Leeb said.
Pediatric mental health visits actually dropped dramatically from mid-March to mid-April, when home support orders were in effect across much of the country. Since then, however, these visits have steadily increased, according to the report.
But Leeb said interpreting the numbers was not straightforward.
For one thing, she said even the big jumps seen in the report likely underestimate the total number of pediatric mental health emergencies. “A lot of mental health care encounters happen outside of emergency departments,” Leeb explained.
But additional research indicates that emergency department visits as a whole declined significantly between January and October. And that, Leeb said, could mean that “the relative proportion of emergency room visits for children’s mental health issues may be exaggerated.”
Regardless, Leeb said the results show that the mental health of many children was of sufficient concern to prompt emergency room visits at a time when the public was discouraged from using emergency services for anything other than the most critical care.
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