Increase in the number of children visiting emergency rooms in need of mental health services

JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – There has been a steady increase in the number of children being seen in emergency rooms for behavioral health services, according to a study in the journal Pediatrics, and the increase began even before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to a record demand for psychological services for children.

The effects of the pandemic have drawn renewed attention to suicide among adolescents and young children.

The Biden administration has called the recent rise in rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among children an “unprecedented mental health crisis.”

“Being at home, not having a daily routine, not being able to play sports, participating in extracurricular activities like a band and choir, and just being with their peers, which is so important during the growth period of adolescence so that they can become very successful adults,” said Dr. Terrie Andrews of Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

Andrews says Jacksonville isn’t immune to the trend.

“There are two different reasons why we are seeing this trend. One is more rooftops coming to the area. We haven’t really seen an increase in the number of behavioral health beds in our area,” Andrews said.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital says that in 2016 it treated 1,280 patients ages 0-17 in hospital, under observation or in the emergency room. In 2021, that number was 1,562.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has really impacted everyone’s life, especially children and teenagers. There are many different factors which we believe are some of the reasons. One is the lack of structure. Even though teens say they don’t want structure, everyone needs structure,” Andrews said.

What are the warning signs of a mental health crisis? Wolfson Children’s Hospital says withdrawn behavior, hopelessness, irritability and statements such as “I don’t want to be here anymore” or “Everyone would be better off without me” are some of them.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital says there are a few steps teens can take to prevent their mental health from deteriorating.

“The important thing to do is make sure you’re talking with someone,” Andrews said. “Whether it’s the counselor at school, often our schools now have licensed mental health therapists, school counselors, teachers, parents, friends, coaches are very important.”

Wolfson Children’s says another way to prevent a mental health crisis is quite simple: spend time with family. The hospital says it’s important to sit down and eat dinner as a family or do outdoor activities together.

Wolfson also makes resources available to parents and children to prevent a mental health crisis.

On Our Sleeves provides a wealth of free downloadable content to help adults have conversations about mental health with children and teens and their lives. Additionally, parents and children can call the 24/7 Child and Teen Helpline at 904-202-7900 or text LIFE at 741741 to immediately connect with a healthcare professional. qualified mental health worker for assessment, stabilization and referral for follow-up care, if needed. If a child poses an immediate threat to themselves or others, call 911 or take them to the nearest Wolfson Children’s Emergency Center.

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, please call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or visit the hotline. website.

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