COVID-19 Pandemic: Wolfson Children’s Hospital sees 300% spike in emergency visits related to mental health

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, even children.

Wolfson Children’s Hospital inpatient Behavioral Health Unit said it has seen a 300% increase in emergency visits related to mental health compared to the same time last year. The children’s hospital said that translates to more than 700 children who needed immediate mental heal hospitalization.

Dr. Terrie Andrews, the administrator for Baptist Behavioral Health and Wolfson Children’s Behavioral Health, said the uptick began around the end of April 2020 and hasn’t slowed down.

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“We’ve definitely seen a toll on pediatrics, you know, very much correlated with the pandemic that no one expected,” Dr. Andrews said.

It has doctors like Andrews worried.

“It’s a tough time right now for kids,” Dr. Andrews said. “Some of the different types of depression and different anxieties that we are seeing are intentional overdoses,” Dr. Andrews said.

Dr. Andrews said the 14-beds on the pediatric psychiatry unit are filled.

“Today, there’s probably about 25 adolescents that are holding, waiting to get into our psychiatric unit,” Dr. Andrews said.

In response, Wolfson Children’s Hospital opened a 24/7 confidential helpline for children and their parents. The number is 904-202-7900.

Through researching Zip Codes of pediatric patients admitted to Wolfson’s for mental health reasons, Dr. Andrews said they were able to identify pockets where she said more resources are needed.

“The highest ZIP Codes that we’re seeing are Clay County ZIP Codes-- Oakleaf, Orange Park, Green Cove,” Dr. Andrews said. “We also saw in Northern St. Johns County, so 210 area, Race Track, Julington Creek, Fruit Cove, those were some higher pocket areas as well as North Jacksonville around the airport.”

Dr. Andrews said the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated an already-existing crisis.

“We are just inundated,” Dr. Andrews said.

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Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows nearly 40% of high school students in Duval County Public Schools reported extended feelings of sadness or hopelessness. Nearly 19% say they attempted suicide in the year leading up to the survey.

Dr. Andrews said children and teens may not verbalize when they are struggling with their mental health, instead choosing to use generic statements such as:

  • “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
  • “I hate it here.”
  • “I’m tired of this place.”
  • “I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Other indicators a child may need help include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Substance abuse
  • Being bullied
  • Past attempts at self-harm
  • Attempted or carried-out suicide of a friend or family member
  • Recent increase in mental health symptoms that were previously well-managed