8-Year-Olds in Despair: The Mental Health Crisis Is Getting Younger


Under Jackie’s care, the youngest patient who recently attempted suicide was 8 years old. She survived, but another child under the age of 13 was not so lucky and became an organ donor. Jackie said most of the kids who came in after a suicide attempt were girls who had overdosed on painkillers, such as Tylenol. Some of them are now facing liver damage. Once, after a particularly difficult day at work, Jackie called her husband and asked him to lock up all the Tylenol and Motrin in the house.

“I don’t want to think we’re immune to these things,” she said.

Even before the pandemic, a mental health crisis was brewing among children struggling with bullying, abuse, eating disorders, racism or an undiagnosed mental health condition. But now, children face more stress, such as the anxiety of losing a family member to Covid-19, adjusting to a remote school or returning to in-person school.

“It’s almost like a pandemic pouring gasoline on already burning embers,” said Heather C. Husti, chief psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, Calif. “We’ve never seen anything this bad.”

For young children, the pain can be endless.

“It’s like, ‘This is my life right now. Do I have anything to look forward to?'” Dr. Hussidi said. “Because they can’t think long-term.”

CHOC, where Dr. Huszti works, owns Orange County’s only inpatient psychiatric center for children under the age of 12. To be admitted to one of the center’s 18 beds, children must be a current or imminent threat. other. When the centre first opened in 2018, about 10 per cent of children were under 12, Dr Huszti said. In 2020, that number started to increase and has now more than doubled.

“Some days, every kid in the unit is under 12,” she said.

National data show a similar pattern. In November, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study compared the frequency of emergency room visits among U.S. children for mental health reasons with other types of concerns. The agency found that between April and October 2020, mental health emergency department visits for children ages 5 to 11 increased by 24 percent compared to the same period in 2019.


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