Teen mental health issues increase during pandemic

A local doctor says their child psychiatry unit is always busy
Published: Jun. 30, 2022 at 10:46 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The last few years have been incredibly trying for teen mental health.

There have been numerous reports of teen suicide, depression and isolation. CDC reports show teen mental health was on the decline before the pandemic even started.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and several other major medical groups declared a national emergency in children’s mental health earlier this year.

In July, the U.S. will have its own number for people to call for suicide concerns - 988.

Area hospitals have faced shortages of beds at times, scrambling to get kids mental health care.

Dr. Walid Fawaz, the attending director for the Child Psychiatry Unit at Chippenham Hospital, says the unit is always busy.

“Most of the time we are full. Even during the holidays, even during Christmas time, even during summertime. And that’s what is really kind of unusual to see happening, but I think the level of anxiety, the level of depression, the level of stress with COVID, on the family … it just makes things more escalating,” he said.

Fawaz says parents have been around their kids more and may be paying closer attention.

Teens have balanced typical worries in addition to concerns for COVID and isolation.

“The number of depression is up,” said Fawaz. “The number of anxiety is up. The number for self harm is up. So I’m sure the number for suicide is up. "

According to the CDC, more than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year.

Fawaz says parents know their kids best and urges them to watch for change, like a decline in grades, anger, outbursts, and even changes in hygiene.

“I think it’s very important to know what’s causing the change,” said Fawaz. “You know. Why the grades are down when they’ve never been before. Is there any bullying in the school? So any problems with focusing, any problems with attention, just to give you an idea what’s happening.”

And he says to consider whether you need backup help and to ask yourself if this an emergency, such as cases of self-harm or your child talking about hurting themselves.

For less emergent changes, start with the pediatrician. See if you need a psychiatrist or therapist.

Fawaz also says some employers also offer counseling programs for families. There are some area family programs that can support your family.

He encourages families to use the school counselor pediatrician.

At Chippenham, they have the partial hospitalization programs.

Fawaz says to look at the Virginia Medical Health Access Program if you need help fast. With that program, you can pick up the phone and get the child psychiatrist on board.

Resources are also available from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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