According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 24% spike in mental health-related emergency room visits among children between the ages of 5 and 11 across the nation since March. For kids between 12 and 17, the rate increased by 31%. Although experts believe that many children will likely recover from the difficulties and regressions of physical isolation and remote learning, they worry that kids from low-income families who are struggling to cope with the instability of the pandemic will face even more serious obstacles to recovering.
Each year, the UC San Francisco’s Child Trauma Research Program works with 400 kids under the age of 6 who have experienced multiple forms of trauma, most of whom are Black, Latino, or multi-racial. The New York Times reports that since the beginning of the pandemic, director Alicia Lieberman reports that the program has seen significant increases in sleeping problems and aggression among the young children, in addition to regressing into habits like bed-wetting.
In Washington D.C., the 7th and 8th wards are comprised of a number of low-income, predominantly Black neighborhoods that have among the most coronavirus deaths in the city. Although gun violence is unfortunately not rare in the area, 7th ward psychologist Sanchita Sharma says that even she has been shocked and overwhelmed by the stories of gun violence she’s heard from her young patients in recent months. Catholic Charities, an organization that serves a number of kids in D.C.’s public schools, reports that at least 20% of the students they serve have lost a family member to covid-19. They’ve also seen an increase in self-harming behaviors even among kids as young as first grade, and a surge in hospitalizations resulting from calls to their youth mental health crisis hotline.
Unlike kids in middle-class families whose primary struggles might be managing virtual learning and social isolation, kids in poor families are also worried about whether there’s enough food for dinner or whether they could be evicted from their homes. It’s no surprise that the kids who will be hurt the most by the coronavirus pandemic are the ones who were already struggling.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.