‘The mental health pandemic’: Nearly 2,000 kids waiting for callbacks at Lurie Children’s Hospital

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CHICAGO — Nearly 2,000 kids are on the callback list for mental health treatment at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

The psychiatry and behavioral health chair at the hospital is calling it “the mental health pandemic” after the virus exacerbated problems.

Dr. John Walkup said while many families on the list will find treatment elsewhere – there’s a core group who are waiting for treatment at Lurie. Walkup said children’s mental health was bad before and It’s worse now.

“Then we shrunk our resources, then we expanded the population of kids who needed help and that put us in what I call the mental health pandemic,” Dr. Walkup said.

The need is everywhere, he said, but still maintains hope.

“It’s delicate, it breaks everybody’s heart, but I think we can manage it,” Dr. Walkup said.

Amita Health Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, located in Hoffman Estates, doubled capacity for inpatient services during the last year, opening a second unit because of the need. The hospital is running a wait list of about 20 children on the outpatient side.

“There were many days we had to turn patients away because we simply didn’t have enough beds for them at that time,” said Sara Mathews.

The hospital anticipates that need to continue even as the state reopens because of new social anxiety after a year of isolation.

“Kids are really struggling and adjusting to this new reality that they’re facing with schools looking different,” said Mathews. “With the lack of socialization, with the stress that their parents are feeling, they’re internalizing a lot of that anxiety and we’re seeing a huge increase in the number of patients that are coming in.”

Mayor Lightfoot said Thursday that mental health is one of the reasons why she wanted Chicago Public Schools back in person full time and said again that is the plan for this fall.

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