It's no secret the pandemic has caused general levels of anxiety and depression to rise, and that holds true for young people. The New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness sees this manifesting in one troubling statistic - the rise in the number of young people waiting for a bed for psychiatric care.
All Things Considered Host Peter Biello interviewed Ken Norton, executive director of NAMI New Hampshire, for more on this.
Peter Biello: What kind of increase are we talking about here? What are the numbers?
Ken Norton: Well, yesterday it was 20 youth waiting for an inpatient bed. And those numbers are pretty significant. You know, typically it's been in single digits over the last couple of years. Occasionally there have been some spikes where it goes higher than that, but, yeah, those those numbers are high.
Peter Biello: What do you think is causing that?
Ken Norton: You know, it's it's always hard to say exactly what cause and effect is. But certainly COVID has had significant impact in at least two notable areas. One area is that it obviously has created a lot of stress and anxiety and upended everybody's routine. But I think particularly for youth relative to school colleagues and other activities, family stressors, all of those things certainly add in there for youth. The other side to it is that it's created significant challenges for releasing people from inpatient hospitalizations, even when they're ready to leave because of COVID residential placements, if they're not able to return home or ready to return home, they maybe need to step down facility, it's been much more difficult to find those alternative placements when somebody is leaving the hospital.
Peter Biello: You said there are there are 20 people under the age of 18 currently on the waiting list for a bed. Where are they?
Ken Norton: They're held then in emergency rooms around the state. It's been an ongoing challenge. And it's heartbreaking, especially when we think about young people. I mean, an emergency room is no place for somebody in having a mental health crisis to be. You know, they should be in a place where they can get help. And, you know, emergency rooms are pretty hectic places with all kinds of things going on.
Peter Biello: How has covered impacted the care young people can receive in general? Do they have fewer options for help during the pandemic?
Ken Norton: You know, that's a good question. There's definitely some positives and negatives. One of the positives has been the availability of telehealth and telehealth being a number of different ways that that can occur by by texting, by Zoom or other platforms that are face to face or by telephone. And those services have expanded considerably. Mental health centers and other providers reporting much lower cancellation rates as a result of the availability of telehealth when things like transportation or child care or work or other things get in the way of people keeping appointments. So in that sense, those services have expanded. But there are other services that contracted during that time, things like group therapy or maybe after school programs. Other, I mean, again, the recreational activities that can really be more multidimensional for youth and young adults, as well as promoting connectivity with other folks. Many of those kind of went away or have come back on a limited basis. And that increases the level of isolation that young people may be feeling.
Peter Biello: For those who are interacting with young people these days, what can they do? What can parents, teachers, other adults who interact with young people do to help them through the kind of stress they might be experiencing? What what would you say to those people to help those young people?
Ken Norton: The first thing is to have a conversation about that and not just a conversation, but an ongoing conversation and to help young people validate the feelings that they may be having about what that's like for them and to open the door to conversations about stress or anxiety or depression or even suicidal thoughts and perhaps to share some of the the stress and anxiety without burdening them, but to acknowledge that it's been stressful for parents as well. I think one of the other things is to think about, for them, how they can develop new routines. What types of things can they be doing that might take the place of those activities that they had been doing? Are there hobbies or other things that can be done at home that maybe could be worked on independently or worked on together with a parent? Things that would replace some of that time and be done in a productive way, I also think, you know, checking in with them about their level of connectedness with their friends and with their peers online, are they feeling connected? Are they what type of interaction they have? I think a big thing for all families is just having conversations about safety measures and risk protection measures that each family member is taking relative to COVID.
NAMI-NH resource line: 1-800-242-6264