Mental health challenges for children have reached a national emergency, according to several medical organizations representing 77,000 physicians and more than 200 children’s hospitals.
Between March and October 2020, mental health emergency room visits for children ages 5 to 11 rose 24%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which also found a 31% increase in such visits for children ages 12 to 17.
Mashana Smith, a clinical psychologist with Lurie Children’s Hospital's Center for Childhood Resilience, said the hospital has seen a significant increase in parents seeking mental health treatment for children. The waiting list has grown “astronomically to the point of concern,” she added.
“The pandemic has taken its toll in numerous ways,” Smith said. “Children experiencing isolation, grief, missing friends.”
Black and Latino Chicagoans have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, accounting for 40.7% and 32.3% of COVID-19 deaths, respectively, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health. Whites accounted for 21.7% of COVID-19 deaths.
The impact of community violence and racial injustice on Black and Latino children should also be taken into consideration when discussing the youth mental health emergency, according to Smith.
“Taking all of those things into consideration, the grief can be very traumatic at times,” she said.
According to Smith, access to mental health in Chicago isn’t where it should be. She believes mental health services should be available within school buildings. Schools can take on trauma-informed strategies, which Smith says should focus on the emotional safety of students, strong relationships with teachers and peers, and teaching kids how to responsibly express emotions.