Mental health of children an 'uphill battle' during pandemic

May is Mental Health Awareness month.

Medical experts are asking people to be especially aware of the mental health of children. Here’s what health officials at Children’s Wisconsin are advising parents to keep an eye out for.

"Kids before the pandemic hit were facing a mental and behavioral health crisis," said Amy Herbst, vice president of Mental and Behavioral Health at Children's Wisconsin. "They have high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide. And they also do not have access to enough care."

Amy Herbst

If children were facing an uphill battle as it relates to their mental wellbeing before a pandemic, officials at Children’s Wisconsin say things have only gotten worse.

"So if we compare December of 2019 to December of 2020 we had an 80 percent increase in referrals," Herbst said. "Kids are not meant to be so isolated, they’re meant to be playing with each other, and involved with sports and extracurricular activities."

Health experts say the best way to start the healing process is to talk with them.

"What we really want parents to do is to talk to their kids. The most important part is to have the conversation and ask your kids ‘How are you feeling? How are you feeling about not being in school? How are you feeling about going back to school? You seem sad today,'" said Herbst.

Ask open-ended questions in a setting that puts kids most at ease and be prepared to listen.

"All of those conversations really is where we want people to start. That is where we start addressing stigma, and that is really where we start recognizing if kids need help," Herbst said.

Experts say, you may have to ask a question in different ways and multiple times to get the answers you’re looking for.

"Mental health, and wellbeing, is just as important as physical health," she said.

For parents looking to help their children address their mental wellbeing, check out resources from Children’s Wisconsin.

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