Valley News – Numbers indicate pandemic stress wearing on NH youths’ mental health

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Published: 11/28/2020 9:45:03 PM

Changed: 11/28/2020 9:44:52 PM

The number of children calling a nationwide crisis hotline has increased by almost 20% since 2019. This is yet another indication that New Hampshire children are struggling to adjust to the new realities of the pandemic.

Last year, 341 children ages 12 to 17 called Headrest, the state’s only 24-hour hotline for all ages. This year, 418 children called the crisis hotline in Lebanon.

Al Carbonneau, hotline manager at Headrest, said the virtual school had been difficult for the school-age children he heard about. Many of them struggle with social isolation and fear that they will fail in this new way of learning.

As challenging as online classes are, Carbonneau said it matters less whether the school is in-person or virtual than how often the school’s plans change.

“It’s the uncertainty,” he said. “That’s where a lot of the fear comes from. You want to make a plan, set something up, instead of guessing what will happen next week. ”

Several statistics this year have shown that the mental health needs of the state’s youth are growing. This summer, mental health advocates noticed a disturbing new trend: children made up a large part of the waiting list for mental health beds.

During the last peak in 2017, only one child was on a 72-person waiting list. However, in the past month, children sometimes made up more than half of the list. On August 14, 26 children were waiting for a bed in a mental health facility, about 65% of the total.

SB 14, which was incorporated into law in June 2019 with mutual support, proposed 12 provisions to improve the psychiatric system for children in New Hampshire. Most importantly, funds were provided for mobile crisis teams, a 24-hour service that dispatches a clinician and a “peer support specialist” – someone recovering from their own mental illness – to the needy child. However, mental health advocates have argued that the state moved too slowly to implement these programs. More than a year after signing SB 14, the Ministry of Health and Human Services has only just begun the first step in developing the mobile crisis teams.

The upcoming mental crisis is not just limited to children. As the country nears the ninth month of the coronavirus pandemic, counties across the state are reporting high volumes of 911 calls related to mental health. For many parts of New Hampshire, this mental health crisis coincides with an economic crisis leaving many cities unsure how to deal with the increased need for mental health services.

“We have absolutely no resources to solve this problem,” said Shaun Mulholland, Lebanon’s city administrator.

Headrest calls have declined overall this year, according to Carbonneau. He believes this could be because his organization was unable to promote its services due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, the calls to the hotline seem to be more serious than in previous years – there are more referrals to the emergency room and mobile crisis departments.

People just seem more desperate, he said.

“Nobody seems to know what is going on with the virus or the country in general,” he said. “Its scary.”

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