Jan 12, 2021 – KRISSY WILLIAMS, 15, had attempted suicide before, but never with pills.The teen was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was 9. People with this chronic mental health condition perceive reality differently and often experience hallucinations and delusions. She learned to manage these symptoms with a variety of services offered at home and at school. But the pandemic upended those lifelines. She lost much of the support offered at school. She also lost regular contact with her peers. Her mother lost access to respite care — which allowed her to take a break. On a Thursday in October, the isolation and sadness came to a head. As Krissy’s mother, Patricia Williams, called a mental crisis hotline for help, she said, Krissy stood on the deck of their Maryland home with a bottle of pain medication in one hand and water in the other.

“We’re all social beings, but they’re [teenagers] at the point in their development where their peers are their reality,” said Terrie Andrews, a psychologist and administrator of behavioral health at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Florida. “Their peers are their grounding mechanism.”

Children’s hospitals in New York, Colorado, and Missouri all reported an uptick in the number of patients who thought about or attempted suicide. Clinicians also mentioned spikes in children with severe depression and those with autism who are acting out.

The number of overdose attempts among children has caught the attention of clinicians at two facilities. Andrews from Wolfson Children’s said the facility gives out lockboxes for weapons and medication to the public — including parents who come in after children attempted to take their life using medication.

Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., also has experienced an uptick, said Dr. Colby Tyson, associate director of inpatient psychiatry. She’s seen children’s mental health deteriorate due to a likely increase in family conflict — often a consequence of the chaos caused by the pandemic. Without school, connections with peers, or employment, families don’t have the opportunity to spend time away from one another and regroup, which can add stress to an already tense situation. “That break is gone,” she said.


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