Prioritizing pediatric mental health during the pandemic

Prioritizing pediatric mental health during the pandemic

For many children and teenagers, COVID-19 has deeply affected the physical, mental, and emotional well-being. "No matter how intelligent they are, [children and teenagers] just don't have the emotional bandwidth to be able to describe a lot of the things that they're feeling," said Natasha Bhagwandin Ahmed, MD, ARC Pediatrician, in this recent article in Community Impact. "They're still processing it, so even naming those emotions becomes a really difficult thing for them."

Identifying mental health issues in youth can be complicated but knowing the signs to watch for can help parents know when an issue is arising. Dr. Ahmed said some tell-tale signs include:

  • Negative changes in routine, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • Feeling guilty even about small things
  • Reluctance to do activities that were once enjoyable

Mood disorders can also present in physical symptoms that do not have other explanations, like:

  • Stomachache
  • Racing heart
  • Headaches or constant fatigue

"I have a decent amount of teenage and young girls who have abdominal pain ... and then when you dive a little deeper, you find out that every time they're stressed out, their stomach starts hurting," Dr. Ahmed said. "A very common thing for children is to have physical symptoms that have some underlying psychological component."

More issues that have been affecting children during the pandemic

Other topics addressed in the Community Impact story include:

  • How the effects social isolation and processing hardships have been catalysts for declines in mental well-being
  • How the pandemic forced minors into virtual schooling, which made it difficult for some students with ADHD and ADD to self-regulate at home
  • An influx of new ADHD and ADD diagnoses as parents finally witnessed the struggles their childrens' teachers have had helping them stay on task or following directions
  • The transition back to in-person school

"Mental health has always been under-addressed and underfunded and the COVID pandemic has made that so much worse. The truth is, the resources are just not there in the community to support the rapidly expanding need for mental health care," Dr. Ahmed said. "It's so helpful to have a pediatrician who feels adequate at treating mental health because we can't always get them in to see a therapist or a psychiatrist."

Pediatric screenings for anxiety and depression

In accordance with a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, routine pediatric visits at ARC for children ages 12 and up include screenings for anxiety and depression. Patients answer questions about their emotions and habits that help physicians identify potential issues and direct them to a therapist if needed or may open the discussion to medication if therapy is already ongoing. "If we look at that questionnaire and see that it is elevated, that's a sign for us to talk more about the way they answered the questions and if needed, schedule a separate visit to talk about it in greater detail," Dr. Ahmed said. "That's why it is so important not to skip those well-check visits."

ARC Pediatrics

Austin Regional Clinic has 23 locations across Austin and Central Texas with pediatricians available to help determine the kind of help a child needs and direct them to the appropriate resources. Learn more about pediatric mental health services at ARC, read reviews for pediatricians in your area, and book a wellness check at ARC Pediatrics.

Choosing ARC for Pediatric Mental Health Care

Austin Regional Clinic has 23 pediatric locations across Austin and Central Texas.

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