Infections with the virus that causes COVID-19 are not the only cause of pandemic-related hospitalizations. Although children tend to be at lower risk of COVID-19, the number of kids with mental health and behavioral problems has exploded during the pandemic, driving an increase in pediatric hospital admissions nationwide. Stressors associated with remote schooling, fear of infection, and concern about older relatives have contributed to a tidal wave of hospital admissions for psychiatric issues, according to John N. Constantino, MD, the Blanche F. Ittelson Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and director of the William Greenleaf Eliot Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Constantino, also psychiatrist-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and co-director of Washington University’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), says virtual schooling has contributed significantly to the problem. He says it’s important to get back to normal learning routines, particularly for kids with special needs. In the St. Louis area, the return to in-person schooling for such students has been made possible partly due to a COVID-19 testing program in St. Louis County’s Special School District. That testing effort is being coordinated by the other IDDRC co-director, Christina Gurnett, MD, PhD, who is also director of the Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology and neurologist-in-chief at Children’s Hospital. She says that ensuring schools are safe and getting kids back into more normal routines can help reduce the need to hospitalize kids for psychiatric and behavioral issues.
Podcast: Pandemic contributing to uptick of mental health problems in kids