DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – As the pandemic continues, health leaders and child advocates are voicing concerns for the children’s mental health crisis affecting kids of all ages.
Whether it was the disruptions to learning in school, to stress at home as families face pandemic-related hardships, child mental health doctors and advocates said there’s a lot of work to be done to address this crisis.
Dayton Children’s Hospital is seeing more children in need of mental health services.
“As an organization, I believe we are seeing what the nation is seeing, which is an increase in need, an increase in referrals, an increase in visits across our continuum of care,” chief of child psychology at Dayton Children’s Hospital Dr. Mary Beth DeWitt said.
DeWitt said there’s been a 30 to 40% increase in symptoms being identified in children.
While much of the pandemic has drawn attention to the mental health of school-age children, advocates with Groundwork Ohio are also concerned about kids who are in their early years.
“We’re extremely concerned about our babies and toddlers because soon they will be manifesting the symptoms, whether it’s when they enter the kindergarten classroom, or later in life, like we’re experiencing in our older youth right now,” Gutierrez said.
Groundwork Ohio is a policy research and advocacy organization that promotes the health and early education of children from before birth to age five.
Lynanne Gutierrez, assistant director and legal counsel for Groundwork Ohio, said the first 1000 days of a child’s life are cruicial to development. Gutierrez said now kids are growing up as their parents face pandemic stressors.
“Children’s mental health, mom and baby’s are inextricably linked, so anything that the parent is experiencing, we can can assume that the infant, the toddler, the child is having the same,” Gutierrez said.
Health officials said another challenge for children’s mental health is creating access for the kids who need it.
“Some providers have not opened up to in-person visits again, we have a challenge in getting children the services they need,” DeWitt said.
Gutierrez said in order to solve some of the barriers to early childhood mental health, it will take awareness in communities and families, support and funding from the state and national level, and a larger pool of early childhood mental health workers.