As the U.S. Surgeon General warns of an emerging mental health crisis among young people, some parents and doctors in Massachusetts believe the crisis is already here.
“We’ve been seeing the crisis for 18 months now,” Stacey Schulman, the director of school counseling and behavioral health for Medford Public Schools said.
Schulman said the district has already seen more mental health related incidents this year than they did in all of last year, and there are not enough resources in the state to help.
“Waitlists are significant. We have students who are boarding in emergency departments waiting for in-person placement. One in-person program we are trying to send a student to has 65 students waiting,” Schulman said.
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Medford was one of 15 districts in the nation to receive a special grant that will help bring in more support. However, with the labor shortage, filling positions is a struggle.
Dr. Erica Lee, an attending psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, said there are some things parents can do if they are unable to find a provider for their child.
“I tell parents to start with a routine. We can get our sleep, our eating, our exercise on track. The second thing is try to help your children practice coping skills at home,” Lee said.
She also said there are some ways to tell if a child is having a bad day or in need of serious help.
“Is their mood more low or more depressed? Are they withdrawing from activities, something they normally love to do? And most importantly, find out if they are talking about or thinking about death,” Dr. Lee said.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s warning, emergency visits for attempted suicide among adolescent girls went up 51% in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
“I have a lot of anxious kids and you worry because anxiety translates into depression,” Tara Dunham, an Andover mom and mental health counselor said.
Dunham said she saw the pandemic take a toll on her two children. In addition to more resources, she said more normal social interactions would make a huge difference.
“I think the social aspect decreased significantly in the pandemic, and it is still not much better with the masking and the distancing," Dunham said. "A lot of kids are just missing that fun."