Mental Health

Rady Children's Hospital seeing 30% spike in children experiencing mental health crises

Doctors say some children as young as six have come to the emergency room with thoughts of suicide

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Several major public health groups are sounding the alarm, calling for more resources to deal with the skyrocketing number of kids and teens coming into the emergency room with some kind of mental health crisis.

It’s a concern doctors at Rady Children's Hospital are dealing with firsthand.  

Like other hospitals nationwide, they're seeing a 30% post-pandemic increase in children coming into the emergency room for mental health concerns.

Dr. Willough Jenkins, medical director of emergency and consultation liaison psychiatry at Rady Children's Hospital, says sometimes that can mean up to 30 kids in a day, some as young as 6 years old.

“Sadly, the main reason that children come in, in mental health crisis, are because of suicide. Whether they're having thoughts of suicide or actually having suicide attempts. After that, we do see some children coming in with acting out behaviors, aggressive behaviors," explained Dr. Jenkins.

During the pandemic, Lauren Martin said she questioned whether her son, who was treated at the hospital, was going to survive. Like so many other people, the isolation of the pandemic sent him spiraling, in need of emergency services.

“A lot of his behaviors would lead to violent outbursts and violent episodes, the end result of that was self-harm and wanting to end his own life, and actually serious things like putting himself in serious situations that could have possibly killed him," Martin said.

While her son struggled with mental health for years, Martin said she struggled to get him the help he needed. And she's not alone.

According to the CDC, 1 in 5 children have a diagnosed mental health disorder, but only about 20% are getting treatment.

“We dealt with the medical system and him being incorrectly diagnosed, " said Martin.

Martin said her 14-year-old son has been stable now for about 2-and-a-half years.

She says after they got private health insurance, he was finally properly diagnosed and continues to get treatment for autism and disruptive mood dysregulation disorder.

Now she says it’s leading to a year of firsts, like him riding a bike and sustained friendships.

Meanwhile, emergency room doctors and nurses remain overwhelmed but ready to help.

“If you’re able to get your child help, we know that we can help get them better. How it's going to be approached, though, is going to be very collaborative involving all players, whether that's coming from government to hospitals to psychiatrists to schools, a whole community and society needs to get together as a whole to really target this problem at all sources," explained Jenkins.

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