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State of mental health crisis for children

Local psychiatrist speaks to worsening conditions
Posted at 6:27 AM, Feb 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-07 06:27:52-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In the 10 years leading up to the COVID pandemic, feelings of sadness and hopelessness increased by 40% for young people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the fall of 2021, more than a year into the COVID pandemic, leading pediatric groups declared a national emergency in children's mental health.

Today, roughly 16 months since that declaration, WPTV is getting perspective on the current state of the youth mental health crisis.

"Things haven't improved, unfortunately," said Dr. Elssy Oms, a psychiatrist on staff with Palm Beach Children's Hospital and Delray Medical Center. "It definitely feels like it's getting worse."

Dr. Oms sees and treats as many as 15 pediatric patients each day.

"It's been a combination of increased awareness, which is a good thing, that people are starting to pay more attention to these issues. But sadly, there's increased stress," Oms said.

"What we're seeing is children with poor coping skills, either coming in with direct or indirect self-harm," Oms said when asked about the biggest points of stress currently for young people.

Dr. Oms also said inflation is a factor.

"Children have to have a sense of security, and when they see their parents or family struggling to meet their basic needs, they perceive that," Oms said.

For the good of children's mental health, Dr. Oms said it's important to have family discussions and regular check-ins.

"We a lot of times ask, 'how was your day?' and we get short answers. We have to ask more like, 'can you tell me what kinds of things happened? Did you find anything funny or stressful?'" Dr. Oms pointed out. "If you do that on a consistent basis, the barriers will reduce. Kids will start becoming more expressive."