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Medical Experts, Families Sound Alarm Over Children's Mental Health Crisis, Made Worse By Pandemic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Medical experts recently declared children's mental health a national emergency, urging policy makers to take swift action to tackle the ongoing problem, which was exacerbated by the pandemic.

CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis took a close look at the crisis in our area, from Connecticut to Long Island.

"Hi, my name is Syndey, and I have cerebral palsy," Greenwich resident Sydney Moran said with the help of an iPad. "This is how I communicate."

When CBS2 met Moran, she couldn't wait to share that she had the best summer.

"I went to a special needs camp, and I learned that there are people who are like me," she said. "It was the best experience of my life."

But the tenacious 10-year-old struggled when she return to school this fall.

"I don't like school, because I don't have friends just like me," she said.

Her medical diagnoses paired with pandemic isolation created new challenges for Moran, whose mother is desperately trying to get her out of Greenwich Public Schools.

"I have been fighting to try and get them to outplace her into a residential facility that can meet more of her medical and psychiatric needs, but it has been unsuccessful," said Jessica Moran.

The district says each child's needs are evaluated by a planning and placement team, but her mother wants the process sped up, concerned for her daughter's mental health.

"Each individual child's needs are evaluated by the Planning and Placement Team and appropriate placement recommendations are made through that process. Out of district placements are part of the continuum of options that are considered when designing a program to meet individual students' needs," Dr. Stacey Heiligenthaler, interim chief officer of special education and student supports for Greenwich Public Schools, told CBS2 in a statement.

"She was at school a month ago and she did make a claim that she was going to hurt herself, so she was transported to the ER, where she ended up staying for two weeks, because they could not find a bed in the Tri-State Area," Jessica Moran said.

DeAngelis spoke with Cynthia Sparer, executive director of Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, about why Moran wouldn't be able to get a bed.

"Hospitals throughout the state of Connecticut have come together to deal with this crisis. Because there are so few places that have the psychiatric beds for children and adolescents, this has created a real crunch," Sparer explained.

Sparer said the pandemic perpetuated an existing mental health problem. The hospital's 40 inpatient beds for children and adolescents have been filled every day.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show a 24% increase in child emergency room visits for mental health in 2020 and a 31% jump for teens.

"Anxiety, depression is enormous. It's almost its own epidemic, and the severity seems to have increased," said Pamela Jimenez, psychotherapist for Greenwich DBT at Wilkins Center. "The demand is greater than the supply right now."

The American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations recently declared this a national emergency, advocating for more resources.

On Long Island, Cohen Children's Medical Center has partnered with 17 Nassau County school districts to provide access to mental health care and education to staff and the community.

"Partnerships between hospitals and schools and pediatric providers are really the way to help resolve some of these issues," Dr. Vera Feuer, executive vice president of school mental health at Northwell Health, said.

One of the many ways the North Babylon School District is tackling this, is teaching positive coping skills, like exercise.

Robert Moses Middle School teacher Katy Forman runs "Runch," a program getting kids out to exercise or just clear their heads after lunch.

"We try to do it almost every single day. It's important because we've been able to show academic achievements and also progress and behavior enhancements, as well," she said.

School psychologist Desiree Stuart encourages patients to continue the conversations at home.

"Ask them questions beyond, like 'How was your school day?' If they say, 'Good,' 'Why was it good? How are you feeling?' And if they sense something's a little off, ask questions about it," she said. "If you do feel like you're concerned about something... reach out to the support systems in the school."

Many experts and families hope raising awareness will encourage others to seek help and wrap their arms around this ongoing crisis.

Parents, here are some resources, if your child is struggling:


ADDITIONAL MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES

If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, or call 1-800-273-TALK
• Text TALK to 741-741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
• Emergency Psychiatric Services: (800) 854-7771
• Suicide Prevention Hotline: (877) 727-4747
Suicide Prevention Live Chat

 

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