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Hospitals see high rates of mental illness in children during pandemic

HSHS St. John's (FILE)
HSHS St. John's (FILE)
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The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways.

Now 10 months in, local hospitals are saying there has been a large uptick in pediatric patients with mental health concerns.

Pediatric mental health consultations at HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield have gone way up during the pandemic.

At HSHS St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur, the psychiatric ward has not had a bed open consistently in months.

"We've seen a real increase in demand for hospitalizations, I would say, in the last month or two,” St. Mary's Child Psychiatrist Dr. Ayame Takahashi said.

Takahashi said the pandemic is starting to wear down the younger generation.

Katie Massey, a social worker for the adolescent unit at St. Mary's, said the ward rarely has an open bed.

"I definitely know that we are always at capacity and even then, when we have a discharge, we are already usually expecting another one to come in, or even multiple to come in,” Massey said.

Takahashi says to be hospitalized, a child must have had attempted suicide, had suicidal thoughts or tendencies, or shown severe psychotic symptoms.

"Because we have been full so much of the time, there is even people sitting down in our emergency room that need some kind of further assistance, too,” Massey said.

It is not just St. Mary's seeing an increase.

While HSHS St. John’s Hospital does not have a child psych ward, they do take patients that require consultations.

Takahashi said those have skyrocketed.

"In past years, we would go months that we didn't get a consult request, but this past year, I would say it has been pretty steady with several per week,” Takahashi said.

Both Massey and Takahashi said there is one common cause for almost every child.

"The online learning,” Takahashi said.

"Typically, every single one of them is mentioning school as a stress,” Massey said.

We asked Takahashi if she is expecting long-term ramifications to some children from the issues they are facing now.

She says there is going to be multiple layers of stress that will most likely take years to solve in some cases.

HSHS St. Johns provided this statement from Dr. Douglas Carlson, the medical director of HSHS St. John’s Children’s Hospital:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is associated with increased mental health needs in children and teenagers. Parents should watch for changes such as withdrawing or increased emotional response. If parents are seeing changes in the behavior of their children or teenagers, please reach out to your primary care provider.”
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