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‘I’ve Tried Everything’: Pandemic Worsens Child Mental Health Crisis

Lindsey has autism. It can be hard for her to communicate and navigate social situations. She thrives on routine, and gets special help at school. Or got help, before the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and forced tens of millions of children home.  Her mother, Sandra, says that’s when their living hell started.

Lindsey is one of almost 3 million children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a serious emotional or behavioral health condition. When the pandemic forced schools and doctors’ offices closed last spring, it also cut children off from the trained teachers and therapists who understand their needs.

As a result, many, like Lindsey, spiraled into emergency rooms and even police custody. Federal data show a nationwide surge of kids in mental health crisis during the pandemic — a surge that’s further taxing an already overstretched safety net.

Even after schools closed, Lindsey would continue to wake up early, get dressed and wait for the bus. When it stopped coming, Sandra says, her daughter just started walking out of the house, wandering, a few times a week.

In those situations, Sandra did what many families in crisis tell NPR they’ve had to do since the pandemic began: race through the short list of places she could call for help.

First, her state’s mental health crisis hotline. But they often put Sandra on hold.

“This is ridiculous,” she says of the wait. “It’s supposed to be a crisis team. But I’m on hold for 40, 50 minutes. And by the time you get on the phone, [the crisis] is done!”

Then there’s the local hospital’s emergency room, but Sandra says she had taken Lindsey there for previous crises and been told there isn’t much they can do.

That’s why, on May 17, when Lindsey walked to Family Dollar in just a red t-shirt and underwear (she had discarded her pants along the way), Sandra called the last option on her list: the police.

Excerpted from “‘I’ve Tried Everything’: Pandemic Worsens Child Mental Health Crisis” on NPR.  Read the full article online or listen to the story (below) to learn more about the drastic steps many families have had to take to get mental health services for when a child was in crisis because caretakers didn’t feel they had any other option.

Source: NPR | ‘I’ve Tried Everything’: Pandemic Worsens Child Mental Health Crisis, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/01/18/953581851/ive-tried-everything-pandemic-has-cut-options-for-kids-with-mental-illness | © 2021 npr

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