Our children are hurting – and their caregivers need help

“We are all a little more irritable, we are a little sad, a little worried, a little dispersed, it is difficult to concentrate. We can’t do the things we like to do, we can’t socialize as much, everyone is a bit grumpy.
— CSAC’s Cheryl Huntley

CHERYL HUNTLEY

ADDISON COUNTY – Children’s mental health has reached such a crisis point that it has been declared a national emergency.

“We are caring for young people with increasing rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness and suicidality which will have lasting impacts on them, their families, their communities and our entire future,” said the president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Gabrielle A. Carlson in an Oct. 19 statement released jointly with the Children’s Hospital Association. “We cannot sit idly by. This is a national emergency, and now is the time to act quickly and deliberately.

Addressing policy makers “at all levels”, the groups pointed out that children’s mental health had declined for at least a decade before COVID-19.

The pandemic has only made things worse.

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the statement highlights recent increases in emergency room visits related to children’s mental health and suspected suicide attempts. Additionally, he notes, more than 140,000 children have lost a primary or secondary caregiver in the past two years, with disproportionate impacts on children from communities of color.

Back home in Addison County, children’s mental health issues have become particularly visible in our schools, which have seen an increase in violent and destructive behavior at all ages.

But is Addison County experiencing a children’s mental health emergency?

“Yes, absolutely,” said Cheryl Huntley, operations manager for youth and family services at Addison County Council Service (CSAC). “Children are suffering right now. As we all are.

WHAT IS HAPPENING

When Huntley tries to explain what’s going on with kids right now, she usually starts by thinking about what’s going on for adults, she said.

“We’re all a little more irritable, we’re a little sad, a little worried, a little scattered, we find it hard to concentrate,” she said. “We can’t do the things we love to do, we can’t socialize as much, everyone’s a bit grumpy.”

Kids are very tuned into that and they feel the same way too, Huntley said. But children, especially younger ones, don’t always have the words to describe how they feel.

They therefore express themselves through behavior.

“It’s their way of telling you something’s wrong,” Huntley said. “They do the same things as adults, but in a child version. They fly away more easily, they have tantrums more often, they are harder to calm down. They are impulsive or angry or reactive or they startle more easily.

At the same time, they don’t have the depth or breadth of adaptive skills that adults have.

Worse still, the pandemic has also hindered or even prevented many children from developing these same skills.

WHAT IS MISSING

It’s not just about what’s going on or what the kids are To do, Huntley said. It’s also about what they are missing.

“Think of our smallest children, in kindergarten, kindergarten, first grade. Their whole school experience has been with adults wearing masks over their mouths and faces. And think of the things we learn as little children about facial expressions and how to express emotions, all of which we learn by simply looking at faces.

A whole segment of the student population missed that, Huntley said.

“How does this gap affect their social and emotional learning? »

Older children are also absent, especially when it comes to the social life that is so essential to their development.

“Adolescence is all about your friends and peers, it’s about developing your own identity and how you feel about yourself,” Huntley said. “And we have a bunch of teenagers who have been stuck at home with their parents.”

WHAT’S NEEDED

“What kids need right now are some of the hardest things for adults to do right now,” Huntley said. For example, “young children do best with structure, routine, and predictability. They need someone to spend time with them. They also need quiet, “which is often hard for a lot of us to do right now.”

And when children develop more serious problems, they need professional-level care.

In their national emergency declaration, children’s medical groups urged policymakers to act on several fronts, including:

  • federal funding to ensure that all families have access to mental health services.
  • better access to telemedicine.
  • support for school-based mental health care.
  • solutions to mental health challenges and workforce shortages.

Vermont knows all too well about the mental health workforce shortages these days.

Last month, reporting on a “mass exodus” of frontline workers from community mental health agencies, Vermont Public Radio noted that nearly 1,000 of 5,000 positions at the 16 community mental health organizations funded by the state were vacant.

CSAC, which is one of those 16 organizations, is doing better than average, but not by much.

“It certainly touched all of us,” Huntley said. “It’s very real. We are here in a time of great need and we do not have the manpower capacity to really support the children as we wish.

But this is not a problem that can be solved without funding.

WHAT IT COST

CSAC’s primary source of revenue is reimbursement from Medicaid, which is the largest payer for mental health services in the United States. But Medicaid reimbursement rates don’t cover the true cost of providing mental health services, making it difficult for community organizations like CSAC to offer salaries and wages to attract and retain qualified staff.

“Quite honestly, I don’t know if there’s enough skilled labor in Vermont to fill those vacancies,” Huntley lamented. “I think part of that is we have to create educational pathways and grow that…but you have to have a pay scale that works so that someone is ready to get into that as well.”

Huntley had staff come into her office and cry, she said. They say they want to stay, but they’re struggling to pay their own bills.

“It’s heartbreaking.”

Still, Huntley and his colleagues see signs of hope.

“Some of our lawmakers have been very responsive,” she said, noting that CSAC executive director Rachel Lee Cummings recently testified before lawmakers. “I think there’s a feeling that the tide has turned a bit and people are supporting him.”

How that translates to hardware support remains to be seen.

WHAT WE CAN DO

“I don’t know if there’s any magic to get us through this,” Huntley said. “Connecting with other people is what gets most of us through tough times – so phone calls, Zoom calls, outdoor walks and things like that are really important to all of us in Connection is kind of at the heart of the recovery in a lot of ways, but it’s also what we haven’t been able to have.

And while it’s important to “recognize that we all need to be patient with each other and take the time to support each other, to pay attention to children, and to help their lives be as structured and predictable as possible” , it’s also important to recognize that “it’s difficult for all of us right now.

Meanwhile, Huntley and her colleagues have been working for some time to collect and organize a wide range of resources focused on building resilience.

“It’s about helping kids find their strengths and their coping skills and all of those things,” Huntley said.

The project, which is ongoing, can be viewed online at okyouvegotthis.org.

“I think part of what we liked about this resilience project is that it’s not rocket science,” Huntley said. “These are things we’re all doing right now, but it helps us understand the framework to think about it.”

So what’s the bottom line?

The basics: good food, good exercise, good sleep. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.

“The more we can each take some time for ourselves every day, the more I hope we can all collectively have the energy to move forward together.”

Contact Christopher Ross at [email protected]

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