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CDC report reflects mental health issues pediatricians are seeing in young patients

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – A recent CDC analysis sheds new light on the impact of the COVID pandemic on adolescent mental health.

Dr. Randy Schumacher, a pediatrician at the Cotton O’Neil Clinic in Topeka, says he wasn’t surprised by the results. He and his colleagues have witnessed the mental health screenings they perform at every exam.

“Even before the pandemic, teenagers had mental health issues,” he said. “Two years ago everyone was in the same boat and things were different, but people were able to adapt. Then probably 18-12 months ago and certainly now we’re seeing a lot more children struggling with anxiety and depression These big changes and swings that we see can be difficult.

According to CDC data, in 2021, 37% of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 44% said they constantly felt sad or hopeless. In addition, 55% reported emotional abuse from a parent or adult; 11% experienced physical violence; and 29% had a parent or adult at home who had lost their job.

“It kind of gave some insight into some of the struggles kids have at home,” Dr. Schumacher said. “We know that struggles and home can translate into problems at school, mental health issues.”

The report also looked at what it called “school connectivity”. Only 35% of teens who felt connected to adults and peers at school said they regularly felt sad or hopeless, compared to 53% of those who weren’t. Online teens were also less likely to consider suicide (14% vs. 26%) or attempt suicide (6% vs. 12%).

But less than half of young people – 47% – actually felt connected to people at school during the pandemic.

“I think that’s a good explanation for the support the school provides,” Dr. Schumacher said. “It’s not just about education, but there’s emotional support, social support. For some kids, that’s where they get it.

Dr. Schumacher says communication is key to making sure kids are on the right track.

“If you notice things are different, like maybe their teen is a little more withdrawn, or in their room more often, or sleeps a little more or a little less, just check back and try to open this conversation. I think for most kids they just need a little bit of support and they need to check in,” he said.

All Cotton O’Neil clinics have a behavioral health practitioner and social worker on site, so if anything of concern arises, they can have an initial meeting immediately to connect families with resources.

Dr. Schumacher also suggests a free, confidential app called “7 Cups,” which teens can use for mental health support. It partners locally with the Family Service and Guidance Center. You can find information about it and a code to enter for download on the FSGC Topeka website.

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