Unseen risk of COVID-19 and children: Anxiety, depression and suicide

Medical Watch

Emergency room visits for mental health issues have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And doctors say the very rules to keep people safe from the virus are doing great damage when it comes to anxiety, depression and even suicide.

It spans the ages and now everyone is suffering. But children are particularly at risk.

They can’t play with friends, they are not in school, sports are canceled and for young ones it feels like their life as they know it is lost.

Dr. Jennifer Hoffmann is with Lurie Children’s pediatric emergency medicine

“Emergency department visits we are seeing for mental health conditions among youth has increased dramatically,” she said. “We know that children are facing increased social isolation and losses of their usual sources of support such as their peers their teachers or their coaches. And many children are no longer able to access their usual sources of mental health care.”

At lurie children’s hospital, emergency room physicians are seeing a 50 percent increase in mental health visits.

“Every day we see at least 10 children or more,” Hoffmann said.

 So while children are not getting as sick as adults with SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, there is another contagion that is threatening them.

“Children and youth are very much impacted by what’s going on in your family,” Hoffmann said. “We hear a lot about how COVID-19 is impacting adults more than youth. And that’s true in terms of their physical health –  where adults are being hospitalized and dying from the pandemic. But really among youth it’s a mental health crisis.”

 Whether it’s the loss of a family member or loved ones with building anxiety and depression, the weight of the pandemic is falling on children hard.

“Children with underlying depression and anxiety may experience worsening of their symptoms and we are unfortunately also seeing increases in teens with suicidal thoughts,” she said.

 Doctors urge parents to look for the signs.

“You might notice subtle things such as that your child is having difficulty sleeping,” Hoffmann said. “You might notice that they are cheerful or just more stressed compared to their usual stress level. And all of those cases a good first step, if you are noticing any warning signs, is to talk to your pediatrician.”

 And take action when life is in danger.

“Anytime you are worried that your child might harm themselves, or another person, is certainly an indication to come straight to the emergency room,” Hoffmann said.

Most importantly, make the home a safe place, to talk, to live and to prevent loss of life. That means locking up firearms, medications and liquor.

“We do know many suicides by teens are impulsive acts and often are not predictable,” Hoffmann said. “So keeping these unsafe items locked away safely is one of the best things you can do to prevent suicide.”

If you or someone you care about are having difficulty in pandemic or otherwise, please reach out for help.

Lurie Children’s has a family support line that families can call:

Family Information and Support Line

If you would like to contact a social worker, psychologist or child life specialist for information on community referrals or coping resources, you can call 312.227.4118 and leave a message. Your call will be returned within 24 hours, Monday through Friday. This service is for non-urgent questions only. For emergencies, please call 911.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — (800) 273-8255

You can find other resources at Lurie Children’s website

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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