mental health

Pandemic Stress Weighing Heavily on Kids: ‘Complete Hopelessness'

Right now, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and young adults in New Hampshire

NBC Universal, Inc.

There is a growing mental health crisis across the country, and, according to the numbers, it’s hitting children the hardest.

Hospitals in New Hampshire are now inundated with adolescent psychiatric patients waiting for an in-patient bed to open up in the Granite State.

Inside the Wentworth Douglass Emergency Department, there are five designated beds for mental health patients.

"But right now, we are so full, we are also using our green area,” explained Alison Zirpolo, a child life clinical practice leader

She says in addition to adults, the hospital has four children staying overnight, waiting to be transferred to an in-patient psychiatric facility.

“It used to be one or two days max, now we’re seeing upwards of a week, sometimes longer, until they’re able to be transferred,” Zirpolo said.

Pediatricians are becoming worried that loneliness imposed by the coronavirus pandemic can be far worse than the health effects of the virus itself.

That’s time spent without their family and friends, inside a small hospital room, with only the help of child life specialists doing what they can to provide a sense of normalcy.

“It’s really hard and even harder when we see the same kiddos a lot,” added Kelly Donahue, a child life specialist.

Ken Norton, who leads the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), says emergency rooms are not a good place for someone to be in a mental health crisis.

According to Norton, the number of kids seeking emergency mental health care at local hospitals has been growing since the coronavirus pandemic started.

“By February 14, we had 51 children waiting in emergency rooms across the state, waiting for in-patient mental health care,” Norton explained.

He says that record-breaking number is more than five times what it was at this time last year, proving the stress of the pandemic is weighing heavily on our kids.

“Youth are separated from their peers, they’re separated from their daily routines,” Norton said.

“A lot of the kids come in with complete hopelessness, a lot of isolation, depression, and anxiety,” Donahue added.

Right now, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children and young adults in New Hampshire.

“Any talk about suicide should be taken seriously,” Norton said.

But before it gets to that, Norton says parents should pay close attention to changes in their kids’ sleeping and eating habits, and dramatic changes in their mood.

Norton says check in with your children often, especially as they return to school after a year-long pandemic.

“Are they excited about it? Are they dreading it? Having those conversations is really important,” he said.

NAMI has a number of free resources for parents and kids -- even interactive social media groups to help your teenagers feel less alone.

For more information, click here to visit NAMI New Hampshire.

If you are in need of help, or know someone who is, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 24/7, for confidential support at 1-800-273-8255. You can also call the NAMI Helpline at 800-950-NAMI or in a crisis, text "NAMI" to 741741.

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