MUSC warns of “twin pandemics” of COVID-19 and mental health crisis in youth

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Lowcountry doctors say they have seen an increase in mental health crises in teens and children since the COVID-19 pandemic began, even noting an unfortunate increase in suicide. Physicians at the Medical University of South Carolina said the issue has become all too common for them.

Pediatric physicians with the Medical University of South Carolina said they’ve had more children enter their Emergency Room with a mental crisis than they have had COVID-19 patients. 

The isolation from the pandemic only exacerbated struggles for kids and teens. From online schooling to anxiety over in-person activities, the combination of the issues bombarding them has led to a higher rater of suicide attempts or completions in children and teens.  

Doctors are encouraging parents to keep items such as firearms locked up. As 9 out 10 times, a gun used in a suicide attempt is taken from their own home.

Dr. Annie Andrews, with the Department of Pediatrics at MUSC, said that pre-pandemic, 13 million children in the U.S. were living at home with a firearm, and for nearly 5 million of those—that firearm is not secured away safely.

Firearms are the leading cause of death for youth in our state and in our country and at least a third of those are suicide. It’s important that when you talk about firearm suicide to understand that the case fatality rate when a child chooses to attempt to take their own life with a gun 80% of the time, unfortunately, they will die and that’s compared to less than a 2% case fatality rate for ingestion suicide attempts. 

Dr. Annie Andrews, MUSC Department of Pediatrics 

While the ingestion rate success is lower, those with MUSC still suggest also to ‘teen proof’ your medicine cabinets. This means not only locking up non-over-the-counter medication, but knowing what is in your home ahead of time.

Additionally, working to be more open with children can have a huge impact. Dr. Byrne suggested explaining, in simple terms, that even adults are struggling with the current times. When speaking on your frustrations, Dr. Byrne said it is best to try to not complain about the restrictions that are essential to keeping everyone healthy in the pandemic. 

But the most important aspect for parents, clinicians, or teachers to remember when speaking with those struggling with emotions regarding the pandemic is to hear them and listen to them.

If you are still unsure as to how to talk to your child about their mental health, MUSC suggested having your primary care provider do so on your behalf. 

Resources courtesy of MUSC:

Be SMART (www.besmartforkids.org) program to increase the frequency of safe storage counseling in our pediatric primary care clinic. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255) 

Crisis Textline – Text HOME to 741741 

MUSC Psychiatry – 843-792-9888 

Charleston Mental Health Center – (843) 852-4100, Mobile Crisis (emergencies 24/7) – 843-414-2350 

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