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‘Our kids are in a mental health crisis:’ Here’s how you can help.

Children are usually at less risk from COVID-19 than adults.

But any parent will tell you, that does little to calm fears. And many parents will also tell you the physical risks of the virus aren’t their only concern.

“I want Pierce County to know our kids are in a mental health crisis,” said Chris Ladish, PhD, chief clinical officer of pediatric behavioral health at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and MultiCare Behavioral Health Network. “Our kids were in a mental health crisis before this pandemic hit and this pandemic sent that crisis rushing exponentially.”

In 2018, 27% of Pierce County 10th graders said they had thought about suicide and 66% reported they felt anxious or nervous in the past two weeks. Now those numbers are likely much worse.

“We’re seeing the rates of mental illness (in kids) jump,” Ladish said. “We used to quote 1-in-5 kids struggles with a mental health condition. Now we’re seeing closer to 1-in-4.”

Ladish says some simple steps from parents can go a long way.

Protect yourself.

The first step to protect your child’s mental health is to protect yourself.

“You are your child’s best advocate,” Ladish said. “Your child has every opportunity ahead of them assuming you are healthy, well and taken care of.”

Staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccine can help make sure you stay well.

“Your vaccine and your attention to your own physical and mental health needs are things that support you in supporting your child,” Ladish said.

Vaccines protect you from the worst outcomes of the virus. Get your child vaccinated and take other steps to protect their health. Keeping kids physically healthy and in school helps their mental health. The more kids are out of school, the more they tend to feel behind and isolated.

Dr. Chris Ladish of Mary Bridge Children's Hospital.

If you have questions about vaccine, talk to your child’s pediatrician.

“I think it’s a parent’s job to question things and make sure their child is protected,” Ladish said. “So, don’t feel badly about that at all. Sit down in a safe space and get those questions answered.”

Listen.

Along with keeping yourself healthy, take time to listen to your kids, Ladish said. Their views on the world and where we’re at as a society may be quite different than you thought.

“How kids are interpreting the pandemic is different from how adults are interpreting this,” Ladish said. “We really need to listen to what our kids are saying. Their response to this pandemic’s impact on their lives may not have the same determinants as an adult response.”

Keeping yourself healthy and listening to your kids may seem like small steps. But many parents forget to take them with so much going on.

“We need to accept that life is hard right now,” Ladish said.  

Give yourself a pat on the back.

Parents are the “superheroes” of this pandemic, Ladish believes. And they don’t often get credit.

“They are wearing more hats than anyone ever thought possible,” she said. “They are the coach, the computer expert, teacher, lunch-maker, playmate and counselor. It goes on and on.”

But even superheroes need help. It takes all of us working together to climb out of a pandemic and a mental health crisis.

“We have to come together as a county and a nation for the sake of our kids,” Ladish said. “We need to be looking and asking and talking about it and making a safe place for kids to talk through their emotions. There’s help out there and we can get parents to that help.”

Visit our website to find resources to help talk with kids about mental health, youth suicide prevention and more. Visit Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital’s website for more from Dr. Chris Ladish. You can also find more on kids’ mental health in Pierce County.

Vaccine remains the best way to protect yourself, your family and your community. Get vaccinated.

And you can do even more to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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Dr. Chris Ladish 2