It is hard to believe that we are coming up on the year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic brought social isolation, fear, just a multitude of emotions. But as I sit here and think back over the last year, the one thing that really stands out to me is the mental health of our children. You do not hear too much about it in the news nor on the news conferences with the state and local government, at least not here in Maryland. It is unfortunate that our children’s mental health is not playing a role in the decisions that are being made.
Now I know there are a lot of unknowns related to COVID-19 and I am not diminishing that fact in the least bit. What I am saying is that children everywhere are struggling. Perhaps it is the stigma associated with depression and mental health disorders. Maybe we are in denial that this is happening. According to the CDC, emergency room visits for children aged 5–11 have increased by approximately 24%. Emergency visits for kids 12–17 years rose approximately 31% for the period of April to October 2020 as compared to the same time in 2019.
Just last week another notification was sent out by the local school system about the death of another student. A student that took their own life. It breaks my heart because this could have very well been my child. Virtual learning for some has been a great option, but then there are other children that are not faring so well.
I can vividly remember the day my then 15-year-old high school freshman told me that she was depressed and had anxiety. I worried of course and wanted to start her in counseling right away– but with COVID it was extremely hard to get an appointment and even harder to schedule psychological testing. By the time she was tested, and the results were in, the new school year of virtual learning started. My daughter was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and bipolar I. I was slowly watching my daughter drift away and did not even realize it. She was drowning in assignments in school because she could not keep up and did not always understand (math is the worst). There were days she slept all day because of the depression. By the end of the quarter my honor roll student had failed all her classes.
One weekend in November things took a turn for the worse, and she had to be admitted to the hospital. After the psychiatric evaluation, it was determined that my daughter needed to be committed to a psychiatric hospital. Imagine the absolute heartache of a mother hearing that her once thriving varsity cheerleader who was on the honor roll was going to be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
The next afternoon they informed me they were still trying to find a bed for her. A couple of hours and 6 different psychiatric hospitals later, my daughter was finally accepted to Sheppard Pratt in Towson an hour away. I said my goodbyes that night and told her I loved her.
There would be no visitation because of COVID and only three opportunities for a five-minute phone call for what turned out to be eight days.
I do not think that people understand the magnitude of what this pandemic is doing to our children and their mental health. They are truly suffering. A year without the interaction of friends, the structure of a normal school day, sports, family gatherings, is overwhelming for children.
I am sharing my story because I believe that people going through the same situation do not realize that they are not alone. I have learned that you can’t take anything for granted and no one is immune to mental illness. Depression and anxiety can affect anyone at any age. Right now, we are just taking things one day at a time until she can get back to whatever the new normal will be.