SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — A new survey shows Bay Area families are concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of children.
“My older son … dealt with it and kind of managed along the way. Not seeing his friends was not so cool,” said Dr. Jeanette Lee, a parent and optometrist who works in the South Bay. She says her younger son liked remote learning initially but then he and some of her patients agreed it was becoming more than they could handle.
“‘This is too much, I still need to see people.’ They felt it was too much especially going one or two years,” Dr. Lee recalled them telling her.
In their annual poll, the Bay Area Council asked voters a range of questions related to the pandemic. When asked about the impact COVID will have on the mental health of adults, 79 percent of respondents said they’re concerned — 41 percent said they’re very concerned. When asked about the pandemic’s impact on children, the number of people concerned went up to 85 percent and 57 percent said they were very concerned.
“I don’t think we have been confronted with this level of societal change and traumatic change in a long time so I think we know that our mental health system statewide is probably lacking,” said Rufus Jeffris, a spokesperson for the Bay Area Council.
Access to care remains a challenge for families around the Bay Area. The pandemic has increased the strain on providers. Private practices that treat young people often have wait times stretching from six to 12 weeks. Last year saw a troubling increase of suicidal children at hospital emergency rooms.
“Parents say that is too long for me to wait to help my child with anxiety, depression or suicidal ideation,” said Lynn Dolce, the CEO of Edgewood Center. “Parents are left with no choice. Sometimes they’re bringing their kids to emergency rooms because they have nowhere else to go.”
Other challenges in the field include a lack of diversity in service providers for people of color and members of the LGBT community, Dolce added. She said qualified staff often can find better compensation with county positions or in the private sector. Workers in this industry face the same stress at home with their families while trying to help patients with their trauma.
“We are having a hard time retaining good clinicians. They are tired, they’re burnt out themselves, many of them have young children. They’ve had to take care of themselves,” she told KPIX on Thursday.
Dr. Lee says she is impressed by how children have dealt with the setbacks of the pandemic — at times better than adults. She still wants to see more done to help them and says intentional conversations with her own sons is an important part of the process.
“I think having the honest conversation of really understanding how they feel and acknowledging their feelings,” she sid. “Even if they’re sad, you know it’s acknowledging that they’re not in a good space right now and if they’re depressed and feeling alone.”
The hope for those dealing with mental health challenges at home and in their work is the awareness created during COVID.
“This cannot be an awkward conversation, this has to be a normal conversation so the suicide rates can drop off. It’s really bad and it’s gotten worse with the pandemic unfortunately,” Lee said.
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