Children adapt to new lifestyles much more quickly than adults. They’re conditioned to go with the flow and do as they’re told since their independence still lies in the future. It was rough on them having to adapt to being stuck at home when the U.S. shut down, but with the assistance of social media, a good many of them soon learned to adjust to their newfound isolation. It wasn’t the same but they could make it work to keep from killing grandma.Once it became safe to go outside again and schools began to re-open, these same kids found themselves with a new problem they needed to reckon with. It was easy to express themselves on social media where a fine line is walked between reality and actuality, but now they had to once again face each other in the flesh. They had to speak actual words before having a chance to think about or edit them first.They once again found themselves in the presence of adults other than their parents or guardians, and because kids can forget as quickly as they can learn, they forgot how to act. Their social skills were a victim of the pandemics’ isolation. And it’s one nobody has given much thought to, until now.
In addition, with everyone in the country nervous and speculating, widespread depression among children wasn’t noticed or given the priority it should have been. It slipped under the radar. Social media helped a little, but it can’t replace the physical interaction required for them to learn and grow.
A high schooler, Amara Bhatia, said she’s gotten through her isolation depression but she feels tired and burnt out. She’s in a state of what she describes as “neutralness″ with little desire to socialize in the way she once actively did.
Another high school student, Virginia Shipp, is still trying to fully readjust. She said what once was considered normal “is kind of unnormal for me” now.
Some kids are taking their reentry worse than others. After a noticeable increase in suicide attempts by teens, and a significant surge in mental health issues, the Children’s Hospital Colorado had no choice but to declare the growing issue a state of emergency.
In May, the hospital became overcrowded with kids mentally struggling, some of them already bleeding from giving up hope. Jason Williams, a pediatric psychologist, said even children in immediate distress were having to wait 20 hours to receive the help they needed. And in cases such as these, every minute is precious.
But by no means is the crisis limited to any one state or facility. “When the pandemic first hit, we saw a rise in severe cases in crisis evaluation,” said Christine Certain, a mental health counselor at Arnold Palmer’s Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida. Kids had a rough time with “their whole world shutting down. Now, as we see the world opening back up, … it’s asking these kids to make a huge shift again.’’
Under normal circumstances, the stresses associated with finals, prom, graduation, looking for summer jobs, and so forth, can be a challenge on the most mentally stable of the stable. But after a year of being held hostage in their own homes, Willaims said many of the students don’t “have enough in the tank of resilience” to handle what they could have reasonably managed pre-pandemic. And they’re too worn out to try.
Since 2020, Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, has seen admissions for children 13 and under increase by four times that of 2019, for a record number of 230. In the older teen bracket, hospital psychologist Terrie Andrews said admissions have increased by five times as post-pandemic numbers continue to escalate.
Dayton Children’s Hospital in Ohio, between July 2020 and May 2021, experienced a 30% increase in child mental health issues to the tune of 1,300. Dr. John Duby, one of the hospital V.P.s, said things have gotten so bad they had to change the admission age from 12 to nine as younger and younger children are also experiencing the sting of readjustment.
President of the Children’s Hospital Association, Amy Knight, said the following discouraging words, “The overwhelming demand for pediatric mental health services is putting an unprecedented strain on pediatric facilities, primary care, schools, and community-based organizations that support kids’ well-being.”
The best advice during a crisis time such as this is to observe your children, your cousin’s kids, and every child you know very carefully. If anything in their demeanor does not appear as it should, either talk to them or at least let their proud owners know of your concern. Not doing so might one day cause the regret of wishing you had.