Childrens’ mental health needs grew with pandemic
As a pediatric resident at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, half of my training has been during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I have seen the progression and toll this has taken on children. One notable change is the increase in depression, anxiety and suicidal influences, among other mental health crises. When I check the board in the emergency department, it is not uncommon to see five to seven patients boarding from overnight, awaiting psychiatric treatment and inpatient placement — and this number has been steadily increasing.
But are we as pediatric trainees equipped to meet this need? I do not believe so. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ annual advocacy campaign, Unite for Mental Health, aims to change just that. In May, Mental Health Awareness Month, a group of medical students and residents from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) teamed up to increase awareness of the growing mental health needs of children, and what can be done to help.
The VCU group planned and hosted lectures for medical students and residents to equip them with tools to talk with mental health patients; it hosted a multidisciplinary journal club discussing the role of mental health resources in schools; and it ran a social media campaign to increase awareness. I hope this momentum will help normalize the conversation around mental health. With the recent expansion of the Virginia Mental Health Access Program, now we have better access to telehealth consults and education for general pediatricians. However, I believe we need to prioritize mental health education at the trainee level to equip future pediatricians to meet the increasing needs. Our children are counting on us.