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Pandemic leaves heavy toll on children's mental health

CHKD sees more young patients seeking emergency assistance.

NORFOLK, Va. — We may be heading in the right direction with the coronavirus pandemic now that people are getting vaccinated, but experts say the damage remains, especially with children. The entire experience including isolation, loneliness, and loss created stress and mental health issues with young people.

"We're seeing more and more children seeking mental health services across our hospital in the emergency room and our outpatient services," said Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Children's Hospital of the Kings' Daughters.

Dr. Gleason said the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down quickly. The pandemic restrictions caused us to pivot.

Most kids had their protective structures such as socialization at school, in sports or other activities weakened during the pandemic and that created a change in behavior and routines.

"Certainly withdrawn and sad, but also angry. And some children having more disruptive behaviors -- yelling, throwing things even -- sometimes being aggressive," said Dr. Gleason.

CHKD is developing new programs and expanding the campus, and it couldn't come at a better time.

"There's a new building on Brambleton that will house inpatient psychiatric units as well as outpatient mental health care and levels in between for children who don't need to be in the hospital," said Dr. Gleason.

RELATED: CHKD making progress on children's mental hospital in Norfolk

The hospital is also working to adjust services so they can reach more children, more quickly. Dr. Gleason suggests some apps and online services to help your kids cope at home:

Dr. Gleason reminds parents and other adults to keep children updated to help ease "re-entry anxiety".

"Because they're going to be around people who are vaccinated, because they're still wearing a mask,  because people are still getting tested, because our numbers are going down," she said.

Also, remember your children feed off of your reaction during these trying times so be aware of your behavior.

"As parents become stressed because of finances, issues of injustice, being scared of illness... kids look to adults for reassurance and can be more frightened if they see that their caregiver is worried, frightened, or stressed,"  said Dr. Gleason.

It's also important for parents and caregivers to remember self-care. Part of that means leaning on your tribe. Reach out to your neighbors, coworkers, faith community even if it's for virtual support. 

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