Local mental health providers see increase in anxiety and depression among kids

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Three pediatric health organizations are sounding the alarm on children’s mental health, now declaring it a national emergency. 

Local mental health providers are seeing an increase in anxiety and depression, namely due to the pandemic.

“It was hard for kids to watch their parents and their extended family members go through the pandemic,” said Maureen McFadden, director of child and adolescent programs at Gateway Community Service Board. “Now, even though they’re back at school and things are getting a little bit back to normal, they still have I think fears about, ‘I don’t want to get anybody in my family sick’ and that sort of thing. They’re also not used to the structure school provided.”

While stuck at home during the pandemic, many kids were spending more time behind the screen – another damper on mental health.

“What they see is that everybody’s living their best life,” McFadden said. “Then that has to beg the question ‘what’s wrong with me because I don’t feel like I’m living my best life?’ And that’s hard for kids.”

Hillside, a youth treatment center, has also seen a worsening in mental health conditions among kids throughout the pandemic. Kimberly Young, the assistant medical director, explained that girls are more likely to show changes in their emotions, whereas boys are more likely to show behavioral changes.

Some other warning signs can include a change in eating habits or withdrawal from typical activities and loved ones. 

While more kids are struggling with mental health, the stigma around the issue still prevents some from getting the help they may need.

“Kids are in an age where they don’t want to be different from their friends and they want to be able to look towards the future, Young said. “So if they’re feeling sad or anxious they will try to handle it in different ways and often try to cover it up and that’s where we’ll see that social isolation.”

If mental health conditions go untreated, experts said it can develop into something worse.

“What we’re seeing is our kids are trying to medicate with marijuana, their anxiety that they’re feeling,” McFadden said. “That’s not helpful. I mean, their brains are still developing and that’s not really helpful to them.”

Experts said eliminating the stigma is just one part of the solution.

“Just because it’s happening to your child doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. But what you do do wrong is when you don’t help your child by getting the services they need,” McFadden said. “It’s not a weakness. It actually takes a very strong person to admit that they need help because that’s not an easy thing to do. And it takes a strong family to say ‘hey, our kids need help or we need help.’”

Treatment looks different for every kid and can include therapy, medication or joining groups and activities.

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, you can call any of these free 24/7 hotlines:

  • National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357
  • Crisis Text Line: Text 741741
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Savannah: 1-800-715-4225
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Lowcountry: 1-800-950-6264

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