Today being World Mental Health Day, it is worthwhile to look at the impact COVID has had for youth.
Earlier this year HHSC reported that out of the one in five young people who reported mental health problems, only one in four of them actually got treatment
McMaster Children’s Hospital reported seeing a steady increase of youth in crisis.
Youth admitted for medical support after a suicide attempt has tripled over a four month period, compared to last year. Patients are staying in hospital longer due to more serious attempts.
A large number of these youth have reported COVID-related issues such as lack of social interaction, increased conflict at home, and the inability to rely on friends as main contributors.
In the same time period, youth admitted with substance use disorders has doubled compared to last year. In particular, the use of potentially deadly opioids has increased.
The number of cases admitted to hospital with predominant symptoms of psychosis has doubled, with the large majority related to substance use.
Eating disorders are “unprecedented”
Referrals to the HHS Eating Disorders Program increased by 90% in a four month period, compared to last year. Admissions were projected to increase by 33% in the first twelve months since the pandemic started. “It’s unprecedented,” says clinical manager Paul Agar.
The reasons for the increase are unclear, but the shared hypotheses from hospital professionals and literature cites a combination of factors, such as isolation, risk of over exercising, limited or no school, or limited access to family physicians in the earlier part of the pandemic, as well activities where teachers and coaches would notice changes in health.
Social isolation and other factors
Mental health challenges during the pandemic can be a result of:
• Increased isolation and boredom
• Lack of day-to-day structure
• Family tension due to more time spent at home
• Anxiety related to attending school in-person or virtually
• Limited access to doctors, teachers, coaches and peers who may notice changes in health
• Additional stress due to systemic racism
“We are all coping with multiple stressors brought on by the current pandemic,” says Dr. Paulo Pires, psychologist and clinical director of Child & Youth Mental Health Outpatient Services. “We must be attentive to the unique impact of these stressors on children and youth depending on their stage of development.”
Ways to cope
As children get older, they become increasingly able to understand and express their emotions. They need coaching to learn new coping skills to navigate tough times in life. Parents and caregivers play an important part.
In times of uncertainty, anxiety increases and youth can become overwhelmed and have to work hard to feel in control. Learning a new skill and engaging in meaningful activities can increase our sense of control and recharge our batteries.
Here are some ways to cope that could work:
• establish routines
• exercise (for those who are not restricting their diets and who have not been advised by a health care provider to avoid exercise)
• eat regularly
• sleep regularly
• stay connected to those you care about
• learn a new skill or find an activity you enjoy
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, visit your local emergency department or call 911 right away.
If you or your youth is in need of mental health support, talk to your family doctor. In the Hamilton area, visit https://www.hamilton.ca/coronavirus/child-and-youth-mental-health-during-covid-19 for resources or call Contact Hamilton at 905-570-8888.