LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the toll that COVID-19 has had on children and teens.
From March to October, mental health-related emergency room visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for children 12 to 17 when compared to the same time last year, the report found.
“And that is astronomical, but it is inline with what I’m seeing here in my practice,” Dr. David Swanson, a licensed clinical family psychologist, said.
Swanson, who practices in Encino, said he has seen a spike in anxiety and depression in his young clients. He said there are six contributors to the mental health crisis.
“And the first thing is this idea that there isn’t an end in sight,” he said. “I think that most of us can endure some pretty horrible conditions, so long as we know there’s a date when it will end.”
And, he said, those feelings of despair could be made worse by their young age.
“If you took a 13-year-old and you basically had them locked down for a year of their life, you’re talking about 8% of their life,” he said.
Other contributing factors include a lack of routine and not being able to see their friends in person.
“Hanging out with your friends and having a social life is one of the biggest things kids can do to fight against anxiety and depression,” he said.
Swanson also said that the boredom and monotony, coupled with the lack of a point of reference caused by their lack of life experience, could be compounding mental health issues.
“Most of us have gone through a major earthquake, most of us have gone through 9/11,” he said. “We’re aware that things get really bad in life, but we also know that time heals.”
Finally, Swanson said, kids are picking up on their parents’ anxiety and fear.
But there are ways to help children manage their mental health, including having open and clear communication, making sure teens get at least eight hours of sleep per night, sticking to a routine each day, exercising, offsetting screen time by getting kids outside, forming a pod so kids can see their friends and watching what is said in front of them.
“If what you saw in front of your kids is a message of anxiety, or it’s more of a depressed message, they’re going to internalize that and take that on,” Swanson said. “So you need to communicate messages of hope.”
The CDC report also found that more girls were going to emergency rooms for mental health crises than boys.
Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health has a 24-hour access center that can be reached by calling 1-800-854-7771.
Los Angeles Unified School District also offers a hotline for students and families that can be reached by calling 213-241-3840 on weekdays between 6 a.m.-6 p.m.
People can also text HOME to 741-741 to be connected with a crisis counselor at the Crisis Text Line.
For those struggling with mental health issues, a list of resources can be found on the city’s website.