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Mental Health In times of Covid

While some people think of  Pediatrician office and shots in the same sentence and is what we do day in and out; Youth mental health is an important and critical aspect of pediatric care. 

Historically around 20% of youth up to the age of 18 yrs have a mental health problem while many of them go unrecognized and untreated unfortunately. Problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder are one of the most common mental health situations we deal in pediatrics while mood disorders ( anxiety and depression) are not rare. This has been a rising problem in pediatrics.

WIth the current Covid-19 epidemic, mental health problems in children have worsened significantly, making it a very common occurrence nowadays, So much that the Surgeon General had released and advisory notice in December of 2021, calling for a Youth Mental Health Crisis with an increasing or doubling in the cases of self reported Youth Depression of Anxiety, calling it 'devastating'. This is something that was overdue and have been observed in pediatric practices across the US.

Undoubtedly, Anxiety Disorders have been the most common ones to observe, but also Substance Abuse Disorders and Depression are on the rise, and it's long term effects on american youth are worrisome.

The magnitude of the situation has overwhelmed the healthcare system and therapist and mental health providers, already in shortage even before this crisis, are maxed out, and many pediatricians have stepped up to fill the void and started treating these problems in our offices. This situation out of necessity and  for ill or good is something that was long time necessary to happen. The medical home of a pediatrician office is a great setting to address these mental health problems as we get to know families very well and their challenges and strengths and can recognize early on problems that  otherwise  may end up in a crisis in the emergency room.

Of course, the question is what is a parent to do? as many of us feel sometimes impotent to help our youngster that is struggling.  I would say that an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of treatment and suffering and would advise parents to maintain the normal rhythms of life, with the social rituals of a family to be maintained, ensuring healthy sleeping, proper nutrition and a dose of physical activity as very important. Kids having lost the regular contact with the school environment, peers and friends have suffered the consequences that I hope, with the normalization of activities may reverse the damage caused.

Next, is to recognize in our kids how these problems present and don't delay to look for help from a medical professional. Some youth may have problems sleeping and turning to their phones which will only worsen the sleep difficulty. Irritability and anger also are signs of anxiety or depression and other kids express their symptoms on their bodies, namely headaches or stomachaches. Look up on how they are doing at school, if their grades are falling and they keep forgetting their assignments or skipping classes, talk to the teacher or counselor in school to find out more from them, get involved.

I would say to parens if they see these signs, don't wait, ask for help and if help is offered by the pediatrician, maintain the follow up, as these conditions are chronic but treatable. Many of my patients did not maintain their follow up and ended up in crisis at the emergency room. I think this can be avoided.

A final word of hope, kids are resilient and with love, patience and proper treatment, they will get better over time. The key is prevention, early diagnosis and treatment.

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