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Mental Health Toll From Isolation Affecting Kids on Reentry

After relentless months of social distancing, online schooling and other restrictions, many kids are feeling the pandemic’s toll or facing new challenges navigating reentry.

A surge in teen suicide attempts and other mental health crises prompted Children’s Hospital Colorado to declare a state of emergency in late May, when emergency department and hospital inpatient beds were overrun with suicidal kids and those struggling with other psychiatric problems. Typical emergency-department waiting times for psychiatric treatment doubled in May to about 20 hours, said Jason Williams, a pediatric psychologist at the hospital in Aurora.

Other children’s hospitals are facing similar challenges.

In typical times, the activities that come as the school year ends — finals, prom, graduations, summer job-seeking — can be stressful even for the most resilient kids. But after more than a year of dealing with pandemic restrictions, many are worn down and simply don’t “have enough in the tank of resilience’’ to handle stresses that previously would have been manageable, Williams said.

“When the pandemic first hit, we saw a rise in severe cases in crisis evaluation,’’ as kids struggled with “their whole world shutting down,’’ said Christine Certain, a mental health counselor who works with Orlando Health’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. ‘’Now, as we see the world opening back up, … it’s asking these kids to make a huge shift again.’’

At some children’s hospitals, psychiatric cases have remained high throughout the pandemic; others have seen a more recent surge.

“The overwhelming demand for pediatric mental health services is putting an unprecedented strain on pediatric facilities, primary care, schools and community-based organizations that support kids’ well-being,” said Amy Knight, president of the Children’s Hospital Association.

Dr. Alison Tothy, medical director of the pediatric emergency department at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital, said her ER has seen kids in crisis daily since last year, struggling with suicidal thoughts, cutting and other self-harm behaviors, depression and aggressive outbursts. Kids are stabilized and referred elsewhere for treatment.

“Families are coming to us because we are, in some cases, the last resort. Outpatient resources are scarce,’’ and parents say they can’t get an appointment for two months, she said.

Like many states, Colorado doesn’t have enough child and teen mental health therapists to meet demand, an issue even before the pandemic, Williams said.

Children who need outpatient treatment are finding it takes six to nine months for an appointment. And many therapists don’t accept health insurance, leaving struggling families with few options. Delays in treatment can lead to crises that land kids in the ER.

Amara Bhatia, a 17-year-old self-described “stereotypical introvert’’ with clinical anxiety, also worries about returning to the classroom for senior year.

The Oakland, California, teen says the pandemic began as almost a welcome change. Being social takes effort, and isolation allowed her to recharge. Still, she had bouts of depression, got frustrated with virtual school and missed her friends.

She used to be a hugger but has become “a bit more of a germaphobe” and says the few times she’s been hugged since social distancing restrictions lifted, she froze.

The pandemic has left her worn down, “like running a marathon, and I’m finally reaching the end and I’m just getting so tired at this point.’’

“I think I don’t have the energy for happiness,’’ she said.

Excerpted from “Mental Health Toll From Isolation Affecting Kids on Reentry” on ABC News. Read the full article online.

Source: ABC News | Mental Health Toll From Isolation Affecting Kids on Reentry, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/suicidal-crises-mental-fatigue-kids-grapple-reentry-78555867 | Copyright © 2021 ABC News

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