A Psychological Well being Disaster Flares Amongst Younger Youngsters
The youngest patient in Jackie’s care, who recently attempted suicide, was 8 years old. She survived, but another child, also under the age of 13, was not so lucky and became an organ donor. Jackie said most of the kids who come to us after attempting suicide are girls who have overdosed on pain relievers like Tylenol. Some of them now have liver damage. Once, after a particularly difficult day at work, Jackie called her husband and asked him to lock all of the Tylenol and Motrin in their house.
“I never want to believe that we are immune to these things,” she said.
“We’ll see this crisis grow in the fall.”
Even before the pandemic, a mental crisis was brewing among children struggling with bullying, abuse, eating disorders, racism or undiagnosed mental illnesses. But now children are facing even more stressors, such as losing a family member to Covid-19, adjusting to distance learning, or fear of returning to private school.
“It’s almost like the pandemic threw gasoline on the embers that were already glowing,” said Heather C. Huszti, chief psychologist at Orange County’s Children’s Hospital in Orange, California. “We have never seen it so bad.”
In young children, the pain can feel endless.
“It’s like, ‘This is my life now. Do I have something to look forward to? ‘”Said Dr. Huszti. “Because they just can’t think long-term.”
CHOC, in which Dr. Huszti works, has the only inpatient mental health center in Orange County that can accommodate children under the age of 12. To be admitted to any of the centre’s 18 beds, a child must pose a current or imminent threat to themselves or to others. When the center opened in 2018, around 10 percent of children were under 12 years old. In 2020 that number began to rise and has now more than doubled, said Dr. Huszti.
“We have a few days when every child in the unit is under 12,” she said.
National data show a similar pattern. In November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study comparing the number of times children in the United States came to emergency rooms for psychological reasons with other types of concerns. The agency found that between April and October 2020, the percentage of emergency rooms for children ages 5-11 increased by 24 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
The problem seems to be particularly great with girls. In 2019 and 2020, the percentage of emergency room visits related to mental illness was higher among girls under 18 than boys of the same age, the CDC reported.