Mental Health Services Crucial to Helping Our Children Cope

With the pandemic continuing to uproot our community’s sense of normalcy, one population is increasingly struggling with mental health in the midst of it all– our kids.

For children between ages 10 and 17 years old, the rollercoaster between being removed from school and being placed in virtual learning has resulted in huge gaps in social development.

Dr. Pratt is the Behavioral Health Medical Director at CHI and specializes in pediatric psychiatry. He says peer-to-peer relationships in this age group are crucial.

“This is when we develop relationships and figure out who we are,” said Dr. Pratt. “And really, we do this at school.”

When it comes to depression, stress, and anxiety, our children and adolescents may not be equipped to verbalize these feelings. Many times when they do, parents may end up dismissing them. Dr. Pratt points out this can be a missed opportunity to intervene and provide the behavioral health services the child needs.

Other times, parents may notice a change in their child’s behavior, such as isolating themselves, or not taking pleasure in things they used to enjoy doing. Dr. Pratt notes that parents and caretakers must also look after their own mental health during the pandemic.

“Parents also need to take care of their own mental health,” said Dr. Pratt. “Kids learn how to cope with things by watching their parents.”

Low-income households are often the most affected, but least supported in Florida. “Unfortunately, our system isn’t designed to help children until they’ve reached a breaking point,” said Dr. Pratt. “That’s why it’s crucial to maintain awareness of our kids’ well-being, making sure to intervene at the earliest stages.”

“It’s so much easier to address issues when they’re in the infancy stages, rather than when it becomes chronic.” CHI offers behavioral health services for children and adults at most of its health centers and via telehealth.

“CHI has really stepped up in getting more behavioral health professionals,” said Dr. Pratt, who adds that CHI’s telehealth services can also make a difference in how our kids are coping with the pandemic. In order to serve children who are struggling with severe mental illness in south Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, CHI is opening the Children’s Crisis Center in 2022.

“Unfortunately, when a child is in crisis, they may sit in the ER for three or four days before they’re even able to get into a bed,” said Dr. Pratt. “The Children’s Crisis Center is going to be a wonderful resource for the area because south of here to the Keys, there’s not a place for kids to go.”

In the meantime, Dr. Pratt said that acknowledging our children’s resilience and ability to overcome challenges through the pandemic can help them cope.

“Kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for,” Dr. Pratt said. “We forget how hard it is to be a child. It’s important to acknowledge that.”