DOH: More children, teenagers in Washington struggling with mental health issues

OLYMPIA, Wash. — New data from the Washington Department of Health showed more children and teens are seeking medical help to cope with mental health issues during the pandemic.

Based on early information collected by the DOH’s behavioral health group, the number of young people ages 5 to 17 seeking emergency medical assistance for suicidal ideation, suspected suicide attempts, psychological distress and suspected overdoses has increased over the last several months.

According to state health officials, Emergency Departments across the state are also reporting that significant percentages of their capacity are for young people who are there for behavioral health crises.

The Department of Health also noted the delta variant has triggered a repeat of many mental health issues reported at the start of the pandemic. Experts said we may be experiencing a “secondary disillusionment” phase over the next few months. As the holiday season also approaches, the DOH said the combination of this new wave with seasonal change may add extra behavioral health stressors for many people.

Experts are asking families, teachers and mentors to know the warning signs that signal when a child or teen is in crisis.

“Be aware of abrupt or significant changes in behavior that may signal that additional behavioral health support is needed,” Dr. Kira Mauseth with the DOH’s behavioral health team said. “Acting out – or expressing distress externally, with aggression – and impulsive or dangerous behaviors can be a strong indicator of distress. On the other end of the behavioral spectrum, acting in – or isolation and withdrawal from typical activities – can also be a warning sign that youth are struggling.”

Here are things the DOH said you can do to help:

  • Check in with your friends and family members. It is a good idea to see how people are doing, and if you have the emotional capacity to support them, engage in active listening to learn more about how they are doing and what they are experiencing. Active listening is listening to another person for the purpose of understanding their experience and expressing care – you aren’t trying to fix anything or solve a problem. Start by asking opening ended questions (i.e. What emotions are coming up for you? How did that event make you feel?) and focus on increasing your understanding of their experiences.
  • Ask gently, but directly, about suicidal thinking or behaviors. Asking a youth doesn’t increase their risk but reduces their risk because it helps that person get the support they need.
  • Talk to your primary care provider. They can lead you into next steps as needed.
  • Adopt healthy habits. Support your youth or teen in adopting healthy sleep habits, good nutrition, and regular exercise.
  • Practice and encourage ‘active coping’. Avoiding things that make us anxious tends to make the anxiety worse. Work with children and youth to safely express their concerns. Start by supporting them in creating, and then using a list of ‘go-to’ coping skills that work for them. Examples can include spending time outside, baking, listening to music, watching a favorite show or doing something kind for a neighbor.

You can read the full report, and find more resources, here.

READ: A local teen hopes sharing her mental health struggle can help others ask for help

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