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Increased isolation, lack of structure during pandemic, likely causes of more youth in crisis

McMaster Children's Hospital says pandemic safety measures have had a negative impact on some aspects of children’s and teens’ mental health. Lisa Polewski / Global News

McMaster Children’s Hospital is offering strategies for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, while reporting an increase of youth in crisis.

According to the Hamilton hospital, the number of youth admitted for medical support after a suicide attempt more than tripled during a recent four-month period.

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It says there were 26 youth admissions to hospital for medical intervention and stabilization following a suicide attempt, from October 2020 through January 2021, compared with seven during the same period last year.

Read more: ‘Kids are not all right’: Mental health among Ontario children deteriorating during COVID-19

Dr. Paulo Pires, psychologist and clinical director of child and youth mental health outpatient services, says that while everyone is coping with multiple stressors brought on by the pandemic, “we must be attentive to the unique impact of these stressors on children and youth.”

Pires adds that children and youth who are struggling with their mental health may display signs such as “changes in eating, sleeping, and behaviours which last for many days or weeks.”

He says behavioural changes can include “expressions of distress, disconnecting from loved ones, or acting out.”

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McMaster Children’s Hospital says mental health challenges during the pandemic can be a result of:

  • increased isolation and boredom
  • lack of day-to-day structure
  • family tension due to more time spent at home
  • anxiety that is related to attending school in-person or virtually
  • limited access to doctors, teachers, coaches and peers who may notice changes in health
  • additional stress due to systemic racism.

Read more: ‘There’s so much pain’: Art shows mental toll COVID-19 taking on youth, expert says

The children’s hospitals recommended strategies for coping include:

  • establish routines
  • exercise (for those who are not restricting their diets and who have not been advised by a health care provider to avoid exercise)
  • eat regularly
  • sleep regularly
  • stay connected to those you care about
  • learn a new skill or find an activity you enjoy

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