Report: Depression, children’s mental health worsened during pandemic | News, Sports, Jobs



Photo provided, UNICEF

Julissa Richards’ bedroom on June 16, 2021 in Brooklyn, New York, where she spent most of the pandemic.

Anxiety and depression are on the rise in children, and it’s not just the pandemic that is causing the rise.

According to the State of the World’s Children report published by UNICEF, more than 40% of children between the ages of 10 and 19 around the world suffer from a mental illness. In the United States, depression among 12 to 17 year olds has fallen from 8.5% to 13.2% in the past 12 months.

The White House also reported earlier this month that emergency room visits for children with moderate to severe anxiety and depression increased in 2020. During that year, there has been a 24% increase emergency room visits for mental health reasons in children aged 5 to 11 and an increase of over 30% in those aged 12 to 17. Suicide alarmingly remains the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 24.

The problem has grown so much that school districts have taken advantage of Bill 323, which provides funds to place licensed mental health therapists directly into schools.

“These problems have increased dramatically since the onset of COVID-19. I think these numbers are higher because many children probably go undiagnosed if they are not taken to a professional, ”said Whitney Hebbert, clinical director of Meadowbrook Counseling of Utah and clinical director of Utah Ketamine Therapies in Provo . “In addition to the pandemic, life is much faster today and very competitive. It puts a lot of pressure on the kids to excel and be successful.

Hebbert said that many children participate in many activities and do not have enough time to just be a child. She said that another factor contributing to the increase in anxiety and depression is the high use of electronics.

“Kids can learn so much online and understand more at a younger age, but that doesn’t mean they can handle more in life or the great feelings they are having,” she said. “Many adults tend to expect more from children when they seem smarter or more capable. It can also add more stress to children.

Hebbert added that screen time means children play less outdoors and with their parents, siblings and friends. This can have an effect on their mental and emotional health if they don’t get the social commitment they need to thrive.

Natalie Sergent, a registered psychologist at Intermountain Primary Children’s Medical Center, said by the time she sees children with mental illness, they show some pretty severe symptoms. She also said she has seen an increase with the pandemic, but agrees there are other combinations as well.

“A big factor is that children are now exposed to a lot more adult topics and problems than in the past,” said Sergeant. “Kids on social media and the Internet learn about news through their online presence. They’re just more and more exposed to real-world things.

Not only are more children suffering from anxiety and depression, but they are also suffering from other mental illnesses like obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder.

“OCD is a commonly observed disorder and it can vary widely,” said Sergeant. “Some people will count and check things over and over again. Other people will worry excessively and ask for reassurance.

Other symptoms of OCD include fear of contamination, a need for order and symmetry, religious obsessions, lucky and unlucky numbers, fear of harming yourself or loved ones, and sexual or aggressive thoughts, Hebbert said.

But there are other causes of mental illness in children as well. Studies have shown that viruses and bacteria can be correlated with mental illness, Hebbert said. Some research suggests that viruses are correlated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Other research suggests that viral illnesses can directly affect the brain and lead to mood or cognitive impairment.

“We also know with mental health that there are genetic and physiological components. Some of them can be situational and some more chronic, ”said Sergeant.

Symptoms of mental illness in children can differ from those in adults, the two therapists said. The main difference, according to Hebbert, is that adults generally have more coping skills or better mental and emotional ability to deal with anxiety than children.

“Most kids don’t,” Hebbert said. “Their brains are still developing and they literally can’t regulate until they are around 8 years old. As a result, they have more behavioral manifestations of anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety in children may include difficulty concentrating, not sleeping or waking up with bad dreams, not eating properly, constant worrying, constant negative thoughts, rapid anger, or lack of control during seizures, feeling tense and restless, or using the toilet a lot.

Symptoms of depression in children can include chronic anger, continued feelings of hopelessness, social withdrawal, increased sensitivity to rejection, changes in appetite, fatigue, lack of energy, loss of energy. interest in things they previously found enjoyable, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and thoughts of suicide.

“It can be very different for different children. Some kids internalize it and don’t tell people how desperate and sad they are. Some children externalize their anxiety and are bullied or labeled as “problem children,” Hebbert said. “I have worked with children who end up committing suicide because they suffer in silence.

Treatment in children may include medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.

“We have a lot of strategies for teaching kids and parents to help them understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are connected and how to learn to deal with triggers,” said Sergeant. “It is really important to be on the lookout for symptoms so that you can give the child the right care as soon as possible.

Hebbert said she finds it really helpful to be there and to listen.

“It sounds very simple, but that alone sends the message that they matter, what they say and what they feel matters,” she said. “It builds self-esteem and can help calm anxiety. It is very protective of a child to have someone they trust to talk to.

Zachary Leifson, supervisor of mental health services at Weber School District, said there are currently 15 mental health professionals in the district.

“They provide therapy services to children who suffer from anxiety and depression and other mental health issues,” Leifson said. “Often it takes weeks or months to find a therapist in the community, but now we have them directly in our schools so they can get help much faster. “

Leifson said therapists are different from school counselors because they focus solely on mental health, where a school counselor primarily focuses on academic success.

“Last year, we started a outreach screening program to help identify these children who were having problems,” he said. “This year, we are offering it four times. However, any time a parent reaches out, the mental health therapist can perform this screening. Once this screening is done, the therapist can quickly identify if there might be anxiety, depression, OCD, or suicidal thoughts.

Leifson said the program is unique because therapy sessions are recorded on software that is completely separate from the schools software.

“It’s just an extra layer of protection that we have,” he said. “Therapists are also trained to understand HIPPA laws and make sure everything is confidential and protected.”


The Weber School District will be holding its next mental health screening from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday at TH Bell Junior High School, 165 W. 5100 South, Washington Terrace.

For assistance at Primary Children’s, call the admission number at 801-313-7770. You can also go to, and


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