Lakeland Regional Health sees ‘noticeable uptick’ in pediatric mental health cases

Local News

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Two of Polk County’s largest medical systems are experiencing an increase in mental health call volume related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts say the mental health issues are triggered by the social isolation and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

The increased calls at Watson Clinic involve insomnia, anxiety, stress and depression, according to Watson Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Joachim Benitez.

At Lakeland Regional Health, there has been a “noticeable uptick” in inpatient pediatric patients over the last few weeks.

The children are feeling lost, confused, sad. Some are expressing suicidal thoughts.

“COVID-19 isolated the children and did not make it any easier for them to cope,” said Dr. Reham Sadek, a psychiatrist at Lakeland Regional Health.

Boredom seems to be a big part of the problem, she says.

“It definitely makes you ruminate on past things, makes you worry about future things,” she said.

“Overall, there are indicators of increased mental health concerns that are associated with COVID-19 and all of the precautionary activities. However, these increases have not overwhelmed our supports,” said Maxwell. “All of the students who were receiving extra mental or behavioral support during school have been able to access support during distance learning. Those who found that they needed support from us have been able to get it.”

Experts say parents/guardians should look out for emotional outbursts in children.

“They may suddenly have some anger issues, and throw a temper tantrum again over something that wouldn’t normally affect them quite so much,” said Jillian Haley, certified child life specialist at Lakeland Regional Health.

Teenagers may appear withdrawn, pulling away from the family and hiding from social situations.

“You want to look for things that are out of the norm for them and address those topics and try to get to the root cause. Something that kids really struggle with is the ability to comprehend their own emotions,” said Haley.

Haley advises parents to allow their children to make choices throughout the day. Perhaps they can choose an activity or what the family has for dinner, as a way to regain control in their life.

It’s also important to model coping techniques.

“If you feel like crying and you’re crying, don’t run to your bedroom and hide that. Say ‘you know what, I’m crying because I’m sad and I’m having a hard day today. You know what makes me feel better is if you could give me a hug,” said Haley.

“Take every moment as a teaching moment because you’re home with them. You have a lot of interaction now,” said Dr. Reham.

If you or your child are in need of resources, call Lakeland Regional Health’s behavioral health line at 863-687-1222 or the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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