NORFOLK, Va. — Author's note: The video above is on file from a separate story about children's mental health that aired on July 1, 2021.
Doctors nationwide have noted that an increasing number of children are needing care for their mental health due to many stressors from the past few years.
In December of 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a statement on the urgency our country must take in finding ways to address the struggling mental health of youth, calling it a "crisis that was further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic."
For the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, their number of mental health visits and consultations grew from 14,385 in 2018 to 25,745 during 2021.
In an effort to address this issue for community members across Hampton Roads, CHKD recently renovated two units in its main hospital building to increase its capacity and accessibility.
A new seven bed unit, called Medical-Psychiatric, has opened with the goal of addressing both the physical and mental needs of children in distress.
This means that children with physical illnesses, such as an eating disorder or those in the aftermath of an overdose, can receive care to stabilize both their body and their mind.
“It’s a unique setting where mental health care is integrated into everyday medical interventions,” said Rachel Andam-Mejia, the nursing director of patient care services at CHKD.
“There is downtime during inpatient medical treatment when the child is recovering in bed, and we’re now able to use that time to provide mental health care, such as teaching coping skills,” said Dr. Daniel Spencer, associate chief of psychiatry and mental health services at CHKD.
“It’s a whole-child, integrated approach that helps children while they are here, and also gives them skills for when they go home again.”
CHKD also renovated their emergency department by creating a unit of six beds that will be used for children who arrive and are in an active mental health crisis. This area will be fully equipped with trained staff and privacy to help children and their families navigate.
These latest additions to CHKD are part of a larger initiative they established by creating the Children's Pavilion, which is a 60-bed inpatient facility for children who are struggling with their mental health. It's set to open later this year.
According to CHKD, 20% of children across the nation have a diagnosable mental health condition.