Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville has seen demand for its behavioral health services for children and adolescents triple.
Prior to the pandemic, there were mental health issues among young people, said Terrie Andrews, a clinical psychologist and child behavioral health administrator Baptist and Wolfson. But this blatant figure shows how they have grown since then, especially among teenagers.
With that in mind, Wolfson is bringing a national effort to the area to address mental health issues among young people, the hospital announced Friday.
Called to our sleeves, it provides educational materials and resources to parents and schools. It is designed to help parents begin to address the issue with their children, while breaking the stigma around them, Wolfson officials said.
The resources, free of charge, can be found online at WolfsonChildrens.com/OnOurSleeves.
Columbus, Ohio Children’s Hospital, started On Our Sleeves in 2018 and has reached more than 2 million people.
Nationally, one in five children lives with a major mental illness and half of all life’s mental health concerns begin at age 14, according to Wolfson.
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Symptoms include eating disorders and changes in appetite, sleeping too much or too little, risky behavior, headaches or stomach aches, frequent crying, and worse performance at school.
Children often fail to express that they have mental health problems, said Francesca Varallo Sims, director of education and training at Baptist and Wolfson Children’s Behavioral Health
“That’s the point of it,” he said. “They’re not just blatantly unloading up their sleeves, so we have to have those tools to get it, if they’re internalizing it.”
Michael Aubin, president of Wolfson, said there has been an increase in problems among the middle classes and wealthy families, as well as among the poorest, who are already facing enormous pressures on life. However, it is often difficult to recognize that the problem exists.
“Many parents feel a stigma about their children’s mental health issues as well as feelings of guilt,” Aubin said. “No one means my child has a behavioral health problem.”
Even before the pandemic, there were challenges such as competitive school stress and frequent standardized testing, Aubin said. And keep in mind the prevalence of pressures on social media.
“Social media creates an easy opportunity for people to attack each other without many consequences directly,” he said. “And self-image is an important part. You now have apps that can literally transform you into the most beautiful person in your perspective, which you think is beautiful.”
Andrews, meanwhile, said the isolation that occurred with the COVID-19 pandemic has been harsh on teens.
“In adolescence, the support and identity of the individual are really included in their peer group,” he said. “When this was taken away, the kids were really struggling, they were isolated, there were no activities, nothing to do. That would make anyone depressed, just be home for months.”
The On Our Sleeves program offers online guidance for parents and educators. Exercises include conversational beginners and writing cues, and there are resources such as tips on how to manage stress among children and where to find help.
The program is about prevention and no formal training is needed to use the resources, Wolfson officials say.
Because it can take weeks or months to schedule an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist, the hospital also has a 24-hour toll-free helpline (904) 202-7900 for behavioral health issues as well as a text service (LIFE text at 741741).