Due to the pandemic, many children needed mental health care.
For WESA’s series on the impact of the pandemic on mental health, Sarah Boden spoke with pediatric psychiatrist Dr Abigail Schlesinger. Schlesinger practices at UPMC, which reports that the volume of pediatric patients seeking mental health treatment has increased by 30% since the spring of 2020. She said her clients, which range from toddlers to college students, have been affected. in different ways.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity
Dr Abigail Schlesinger: I am concerned that we have high risk children who have spent much of the year not going to all of the classes every day. Up at night, asleep by day. And for those young children who are really developing their social skills and the way they communicate in a group, they may not have had the opportunities they would have had. I am not suggesting anyone to be afraid or to worry. Just watch your child: you look at their strengths, but you can also consider what they are, what their weaknesses were, where you were concerned about them. If you knew that you have had a child who has struggled to sit in the past and has been able to stand for a year, then this is an area where you should talk to teachers about way to give them extra support.
Sarah Boden: When it comes to tweens and teens, these guys are old enough to remember a world before Covid. What are the things you hear from your customers regarding the incredible challenges our company has faced over the past year and a half? How do they feel about it?
Schlesinger: I would say a consistent theme I’ve heard from teenagers, a lot more than before Covid, although it was always a bit, is, ‘Why don’t parents know what they’re doing? Law. Like, why can’t they figure this out? To us, that seems obvious, right? Like that, it’s a generational stressor that no one has ever seen. There hasn’t been a pandemic since 1918. But we know it. We’ve lived, you know, myself, over 40 years without ever having anything like it. They don’t know how different it is in so many ways.
Boden: For children who have experienced incredible loss, perhaps the loss of a parent. How can we help them grieve in a healthy way?
Schlesinger: Well, remembering mourning is not a straight line, and they may not be ready to grieve when parents are ready to grieve. Children will grieve differently and have different experiences as they age. A young child who loses a parent may not even be ready to talk about it, but they will be affected. I think one of the hardest things for parents to do when there have been significant losses is to recognize that your child’s grief will continue. It’s good, it’s normal. This will continue into adulthood as they somehow adjust to their new reality.
Boden: You have been a psychiatrist for about 20 years. Have you ever experienced such a dynamic or unpredictable period of time as what has been caused by Covid?
Schlesinger: The closest to that experience, I think, was September 11. An experience shared from all over the country. And there was a period of uncertainty after that where there were other things that happened in September and October that put us in danger and the world changed drastically, quickly. But then things returned to a new normal pretty quickly. What is different now is the continuing nature of what is happening. It changed us all. And our children will be different because of it. It doesn’t mean that they will be marked forever, but they will be different because they’ve been there.
Boden: How do you think they will be different?
Schlesinger: I don’t know 100%. But I think I’m continually amazed at how resilient children can be if we put the right things in place to help them, and how difficult it is for us as adults to adapt. Because for kids things change all the time. You know, elementary school students, no difficulty in wearing masks. It’s adults. We don’t want to do it because we remember a world without masks and we want to go back to it. So I guess I am continually impressed with the resilience of children and how we as adults need to remember to learn from them as well.
This story was produced as part of “Pittsburgh’s Missing Bridges”, a collaborative reporting project of the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.