Nearly a year into the coronavirus crisis, the pandemic is continuing to take a toll on the mental health of children. Some Connecticut pediatricians and social workers find themselves fielding more calls for help from concerned parents.
Tens of thousands of people in Connecticut have reached out for help with mental health over the last several months, according to new data. An increasing number of those in need appears to be under the age of 18, according to some pediatric and social services experts.
"This has been a really hard time and it's been hard on everyone - especially children,” said Dr. Mark Gilroy, a junior partner at Unionville Pediatrics in Farmington.
Gilroy said he has seen many kids with no prior mental health issues now struggling during the COVID-19 crisis. It is the likely result, Gilroy said, of isolation and general anxiety that currently exists.
"We've been seeing a dramatic increase in our mental health visits, especially,” said Dr. Gilroy.
211 Connecticut, which tracks requests for mental health services, had less than 50,000 such inquiries across all age groups to the system between February 1, 2019 and February 1, 2020. According to 211 data, 49,570 mental health services requests were made during those 12 months.
During that same amount of time from February 1, 2020 to February 1, 2021, the number of those mental health services requests increased to 59,766.
United Way of Connecticut, which operates the 211 system with the state, said that most adolescent-related mental health calls typically come from schools. But with many students learning remotely, it has been difficult to know exactly how much help is being sought for those under age 18.
"We kind of expect children to just bounce back and what we're seeing now is that that's not happening,” said Dr. Dayeshell Muhammad, director of operations at My People Clinical Services, a community-based social service organization serving greater Hartford.
"There's a lot of different organizations that can offer different outlets,” said Dr. Muhammad. “I think the community has what's needed."
“We have to get parents to understand that it’s OK that your child may need some supports,” Dr. Muhammad said. “There’s going to be challenges that we have to face after we address the health crisis that we’re dealing with right now,” she added.
“Please reach out so we can help,” Dr. Gilroy said. “We want to be there, and we want to help.”
Dr. Gilroy said many families who are seeking assistance are receiving it through telehealth appointments.
“It’s given us the ability to touch base with people in a way and to interact with people in a way that has been both a lot more convenient for them and I think a lot much higher value for them,” Gilroy said.
These doctors said the first step to find help if you or someone in your family is in need is to contact 211, either by phone or online, to be connected to mental health resources 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Anyone who is outside of the state can connect to Connecticut 211 by calling 1(800)203-1234.
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