Hamilton hospitals have seen a steady increase of youth in crisis.
According to a report by Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), “a large number of these youth have reported COVID-related issues such as lack of social interaction, increased conflict at home, and the inability to rely on friends as main contributors.”
Youth admitted to McMaster Children’s Hospital for medical support after a suicide attempt has tripled over a four-month period, compared to last year and patients are staying in hospital longer due to more serious attempts, according to the report published Monday (Mar. 15).
Meanwhile, in the same time period, youth admitted with substance use disorders has doubled compared to last year. In particular, the use of potentially deadly opioids has increased.
“We are all coping with multiple stressors brought on by the current pandemic,” says Dr. Paulo Pires, psychologist and clinical director of Child & Youth Mental Health Outpatient Services. “We must be attentive to the unique impact of these stressors on children and youth depending on their stage of development.”
Further, the number of cases admitted to HHS hospitals with predominant symptoms of psychosis has doubled, with the large majority related to substance use.
HHS has also seen an unprecedented number of referrals to their Eating Disorders Program—an increase of 90 per cent in a four-month period, compared to 2020. Admissions are projected to increase by 75 per cent over the 12 months since the pandemic started.
The report acknowledges that the reasons for the increases aren’t definitively clear, but the shared hypotheses from hospital professionals and literature cite a combination of factors; such as isolation, risk of over-exercising, limited or no school, or limited access to family physicians in the earlier part of the pandemic, as well activities where teachers and coaches would notice changes in health.
HHS says additional stress due to systemic racism has also been a factor.
Parents and caregivers play an important part in their child’s mental wellbeing, according to the report. Pires says children and youth who are struggling with their mental health may display signs that caregivers can notice.
“Changes in eating, sleeping, and behaviours which last for many days or weeks may be a sign,” he says. “Changes in behaviour can include expressions of distress, disconnecting from loved ones, or acting out behaviours. Caregivers are encouraged to reach out for professional help for their children or for themselves as parents.”
Pires believes that as children get older, they become increasingly able to understand and express their emotions and need coaching to learn new coping skills to navigate tough times in life.
“In times of uncertainty, anxiety increases and youth can become overwhelmed and have to work hard to feel in control. Learning a new skill and engaging in meaningful activities can increase our sense of control and recharge our batteries,” according to the HHS report, which outlined methods that can be used for coping.
They include establishing routines, exercising, eating regularly, getting regular sleep, staying connected to those you care about, and learning a new skill or finding an activity you enjoy.
According to HHS, one in five children suffer from a mental health concern, but only a quarter of those struggling actually receive treatment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, visit your local emergency department or call 911 right away.
If you or your youth is in need of mental health support, talk to your family doctor. In the Hamilton area, visit hamilton.ca/CYmentalhealth for resources or call Contact Hamilton at 905-570-8888.