‘On edge all the time:’ Children’s mental health nears ‘crisis’ in fourth wave in Alberta, doctors say
In Calgary, psychiatrist Dr. Chris Wilkes has seen a 200% increase in emergency room visits for young people under the age of 18 for anxiety, depression and eating disorders over the past eight months.
“We’re likely to see a worsening or high level of (demand for) mental health services for some time to come,” Wilkes said. “We have a crisis in terms of demand for our services which exceeds our resources. “
Dr Rena LaFrance, a psychiatrist at Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton, said the severity of mental health problems she sees in patients aged four to 18 has doubled or tripled in recent months.
The most common problems she sees are anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, acute stress, ADHD, and bereavement in children who have lost family members to COVID-19.
“It doesn’t improve when kids go online and come back (to in-person learning), ”she said.
LaFrance attributes the problem to children absorbing their parents’ fourth wave anxieties, more deaths in the news and uncertainty over which children will receive COVID.
For children under 11 who cannot yet be vaccinated, LaFrance said the uncertainty of not feeling fully protected also contributes to anxiety.
“There was afraid to take it home to their parents and grandparents, ”she said.
“Tthey might not be thrilled to get a real needle (but) my perception is that they are thrilled to protect their friends and family and themselves.
Normal is still a long way off
For Calgary pediatrician Dr. April Elliott, the remaining restrictions in place show young people that normalcy is still far away, as children lack regular social interactions due to masking and distancing.
“Right now they are being told that they cannot do so many things, ”she said. “And they were also in a time when the use of screens was necessary. And it’s hard to step back from (screens) when it’s socially needed.
The authors urged the development of a national school mental health strategy because COVID “shines a light” on the problem.