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Mental health concerns rise as students go back to school

Safely Back to School because of inclement weather
Posted at 12:21 PM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 19:22:38-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Data from Rady Children's Hospital shows a spike in emergency room visits for mental health concerns during the pandemic, increasing fears as students go back to school.

Child and Educational Psychologist Reena B. Patel says the isolation from the pandemic coupled with a lack of resources for children to cope have led to higher rates of depression and anxiety.

"Now as I see children transition back to a school setting I'm seeing an increase in separation anxiety." Patel said she's seeing more panic attacks and regression in children and teens' social and emotional behaviors.

She said parents should look for shaking, uncontrollable crying, difficulty breathing or inability to catch their breath. All of those signs and symptoms could indicate a panic attack. Deep breaths, talking it out and, if these episodes persist, contacting a professional like Patel are recommended.

Rady Children's Hospital confirmed with ABC 10News data from March through May shows a 5% - 7% spike in emergency room visits in 2020. The numbers dipped from May to June during the summer and increased by 7% to the present.

"Their beds are full and it's not just for an increase in suicide. Young children are having an increase in suicide ideation, thoughts because they are feeling isolated, alone and seeking some type of outlet, to an increase in anxiety, depression, eating challenges, difficulty sleeping. You name it the ER has definitely had an increase." Patel said.

As school districts reopen and more students go back to school Patel said changes need to be made to accommodate for the trauma from the past year.

"I think it's also important to realize that we need to put in place as educators, as school districts to put into place some kind of transitional program." Patel said.

Patel said it is important for parents to create space to talk about mental wellness, exploring how they're feeling and validating and empathizing with those feelings. She also said it is important for teachers to incorporate mental health into their lesson plan.

Patel said we need to be proactive instead of reactive and see school as a place that does more than teach lessons in a classroom.

Mother of two sons and lecturer at multiple colleges Julie Hansen agreed and said she is taking classes this summer to prepare to support her students as they come back to class next year.

Hansen has a sophomore in high school and a freshman in college. She said the pandemic brought them closer together as a family and it was hard but her boys persevered.

When it was time to go back to campus her sophomore was elated.

"He came home yesterday and he was bouncing around you know and for a pretty steady guy, it was really neat to see him so excited... He came home and I said how did it go? and he goes, 'Mom! I was able to talk with my friends!' and I was like you have friends?" Julie said joking and smiling widely.

Both Patel and Hansen hope the future is bright and fears of the pandemic fade away.

"They will bounce back. Children are so resilient and it's so nice to see, so this is just a bump in their entire life and it's a great life lesson that we can model and take from," Patel said.

Hansen said she is looking forward to the day we can see each other in person without masks and celebrate together.