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Isolation leading to mental health concerns in teens, doctors say

Pediatricians in St. Louis say they’re noticing a new trend emerging because of COVID-19: more children going to the hospital for acute psychiatric needs

ST. LOUIS — Pediatricians in St. Louis say they’re noticing a new trend emerging because of COVID-19: more children going to the hospital for acute psychiatric needs.

"The stress, fear and uncertainty created by COVID-19 can wear down anyone, and our teens seem to be bearing the brunt of this,” SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Rachel Charney said Monday.

Charney spoke during a St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force briefing.

The increase in mental health issues is brought on — at least in part — by isolation during e-learning and being apart from their friends during the summer.

"Kids that are pre-teens and teens are at a developmental place where their relationships with their peers are extremely important, and they're missing out on that,” therapist and counselor Kristen Craren said.

Craren said her patients' families are making their back-to-school decisions with mental health in mind.

"For lack of a better word, it's going to be a grand experiment going into the fall,” said Dr. Alexander Garza, who leads the pandemic task force.

Garza said during Monday’s briefing he believes they can keep kids safe from coronavirus in school with social distancing, masks, and other safety protocols.

"Children by and large are not as affected by the virus,” he said, adding there are, of course, adults to consider, too. "It's a tricky balance,” he said.

That's why Craren said it's important for families to think about any close contacts their children would have outside school to whom they could spread the virus, while also considering their child's personality and the impact extended e-learning could have on them.

"Do the best you can do with what you have and I think that's what we're all doing right now,” she said.

Dr. Charney advises parents to talk to their pediatricians if they notice any of the following changes in their children:

  • atypical mood or behavior changes
  • lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • memory concentration problems
  • change in appearance, lack of hygiene
  • increase in risky behaviors
  • talk about death or suicide

For more information about helping children cope with the pandemic, visit healthychildren.org.

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