Emily Hangen said it only took a few weeks after her family began isolating in their home in Winslow, Ariz., for her to notice changes in her four children.
“There were behavioral issues, incidents of acting out, being angry, sleeping more or sleeping less depending on the child,” Hangen recalls. “We had one that just wanted to eat and one that didn’t want to eat at all—overall depression.”
While Hangen’s oldest child was receiving counseling services for issues with depression diagnosed prior to the pandemic, getting behavioral healthcare support for her other three children has been a major problem.
“It is pretty much impossible to get any professional assistance,” Hangen said. “Between the pandemic and just the lack of services available in our area, they have not been able to get any professional help.”
Hangen’s challenges in finding behavioral health services for her family reflects a problem that has been exacerbated by social distancing. The isolation has been particularly hard for many children, which has led to a surge in reported cases of youth mental health disorders and incidents of self-harm.
Stakeholders fear the true tipping point could come years after the pandemic’s end when providers begin to see the health impact of children with mental health disorders that were left undiagnosed, unmanaged and untreated.
As a result, the current environment has presented a unique opportunity for healthcare as a whole to re-examine and change how pediatric mental healthcare is delivered. Some remain hopeful that the impact of the past 12 months will inspire providers to adopt care strategies that promote prevention and address social stressors that could lead children to develop longer-term emotional issues.