Experts warn about children’s mental health crisis

Local News

DENVER (KDVR) — The nation’s pediatric health experts are calling for help to combat a children’s mental health crisis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health this week. Mental health professionals are noticing alarming trends in the number of children reporting a variety of behavioral health issues.

“We’ve seen an increase across the board for all of our services,” said Dr. Ron-Li Liaw, chair of the pediatric mental health institute at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

From January to May, the Children’s Hospital Colorado pediatric system saw a 73% increase in behavioral health visits to the emergency department compared to the same timeframe in 2019. The Pediatric Mental Health Institute continues to see two to three times more patients reporting increased anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation and social disconnectedness.

“The demand has completely surpassed the access and the capacity of our children’s mental health system. I don’t mean just at Children’s — I mean across the entire state of Colorado,” Liaw said.

Liaw says they’re actively working to hire more mental health professionals from all experience levels.

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a child and family therapist, says there is likely a number of factors leading to the increase in demand; A majority stem from the pandemic.

“There’s still a great deal of fear, and parents’ lives might not be the same, or they might still be trying to work from home or juggle things differently,” said Ziegler.

Ziegler said kids may still be recovering from the loneliness or trauma they experienced during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We always knew social connection was incredibly important for your physical and mental health. However, this pandemic really emphasized that,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler’s practice has seen a 68% increase in referrals over the last year. She says a majority are for younger children, 5 to 8 years old.

Children’s Hospital Colorado is also seeing a negative impact on younger kids, including babies and toddlers. Those impacts include developmental regression, and may come out through more tantrums or problems sleeping and eating.

Ziegler recommends parents check in on their kids often and don’t allow them to self-isolate. She says now is not the time to increase pressure on children, whether it’s academically or in other extra-curriculars.

Parents that are concerned about their child can find more resources here:

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