SAN DIEGO — Rady Children’s Hospital is seeing an increase of children experiencing mental health issues. The hospital says it has had a 30% increase since the pandemic like many other hospitals nationwide.
“We don’t say this to alarm anybody, but just to raise awareness and know that there is help out there,” said Dr. Willough Jenkins, a pediatrics psychiatrist at Rady Children’s Hospital. “10 years ago when I was doing this work, we’d see 30 children in a month. Now, that can be up to 30 children in one day.”
She says they’re also seeing younger children coming in in distress.
“It’s not unusual to have an elementary school-aged child coming in talking about suicide or thoughts of suicide and many years ago that would be very, very rare,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says the hospital saw an increase of children with mental health struggles visit their emergency room before the pandemic, but the pandemic exacerbated the issue.
“Children’s academics were disrupted and families were under stress,” Jenkins said. “And a lot of children lost their parent or caregiver so there is a lot of grief they’re still processing from the last few years.”
With the prevalence of mental health conditions, Jenkins says every parent should be having a conversation with their children about their mental health.
“Warning signs that your child is experiencing troubles are changes in their mood, whether that be a bit more irritable, anxious or stressed,” she explained. “And now we’re back to school, so teachers might notice a change in school performance.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder in a given year. Dr. Jenkins says parents need to know they’re not alone and that there’s hope and help.
“The good news is for children with mental health conditions it is so treatable, there’s so much hope for recovery,” she said.
If you have concerns about your child’s safety, worried they might hurt themselves for someone else, you can take them to the emergency room. If you’re concerned your child might be struggling with depression, anxiety or stress, she recommends talking to you pediatrician or school counselor.