Fort Worth, Texas,
15:59 PM

Depression and Anxiety in Children and Teens on the Rise Amid COVID-19

In her more than 25 years at Cook Children's, nothing prepared Lisa Elliott, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist for the past few months. She calls them "the most challenging time I've had in all my years at Cook Children's concerning patient needs."

Since the end of school, many pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other health care providers are seeing an uptick in teenagers with signs and symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other severe health and mental issues.

During three weeks in May, Elliott met with children she says were contemplating suicide and another she believes attempted suicide. She also made three calls to Child Protective Services, and she phoned the FBI and Exploited Children for the same case: a sexual predator attempting to get sexual pictures.

Joy Crabtree, Psy.D., and a licensed psychologist at Cook Children's, echoes many of the same sentiments as Elliott.

Crabtree's seen an increase in anxiety and depression in her adolescent patients, as well as more anxiety in younger children. Crabtree believes social isolation, being away from school (or "typical school"), and out of a routine are all things that have contributed to children's mental state right now. 

Amani Terrell, M.D., a Cook Children's pediatrician in Keller, agrees that the coronavirus has brought a tremendous degree of turmoil. 

"The sheer uncertainty of the pandemic can create fear and anxiety in anyone, especially in the face of ever-changing recommendations and expectations," Dr. Terrell said. "This microscopic, invisible monster has created a global threat to health care and the economy and has forced unprecedented interventions, including lockdowns, school closures, and pleas for social distancing. As a consequence, many of us are starting to see an uptick in teenagers with signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression.”

"The cancellation of important school events like prom and graduation can be devastating to an adolescent. Kids can feel disconnected from friends and classmates," Dr. Terrell said. "Some teens may be internalizing the stress and anxiety of parents and caregivers, who may be struggling emotionally and financially. Many youths who have already struggled with mental health issues may have exacerbations of their symptoms as a result of social isolation. They may not have easy access to counseling or other therapies."

Dr. Terrell urges parents to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems (which sometimes can be confused with typical teen behavior). If they notice these problems, she advises parents to seek professional help from their child's pediatrician. Unchecked, teens with depression may be unable to cope emotionally, which can lead to dangerous behaviors, such as alcohol/drug abuse and sex. It increases the risk of suicide or self-harm. 

And while the pandemic has caused a lot of grief for kids recently, now the tragic death of George Floyd may cause even more pain. 

"Here in the last week or so, I've seen anxiety spike again with the death of George Floyd and the protests," Crabtree said. "Some kids are concerned about their safety, as well as that of their family. Many adults are having a difficult time dealing with all of these stressful issues and changes, and children and adolescents are as well."

Our experts encourage parents to watch for any change in a child's mood. Parents may notice sadness, depression, hopelessness, irritability, anger, and hostility. You may see more tearfulness and changes in activity levels. Watch for more withdrawal from friends and family, change in friends, and loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. 

Other signs include sleep disturbance, change in appetite, restlessness, agitation, fatigue, lack of energy/motivation, feelings of worthlessness, and guilt. Depressed kids may have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, and may even see a drop in grades. 

Always be aware of signs of depression and keep a close eye on your child. Never ignore symptoms. If you see signs of depression, contact your physician and obtain referrals for a psychologist or therapist trained in pediatric and adolescent care. 

If a child is talking about suicide, get help immediately. It is critical not to ignore this cry for help regardless of their reasons. 

Know that if your child is struggling with a chronic illness, including depression, it will impact the entire family. Families will require a lot of support: emotional, financial, and physical. Most importantly, the support needs to be ongoing. It's important to allow family members to vent frustration and grieve. Therapy is beneficial. If your teen is struggling with this problem, the entire family will need help to get through it. 

If you feel your child needs help, please talk to your pediatrician or call 682-885-3917 for a referral into Cook Children's Psychology department.

Referenced from AAP- How to Recognize Signs of Depression

About the Sources

Amani Terrell, M.D., FAAP

Amani Terrell, M.D., FAAP, was born and raised in Fort Worth, TX. As the daughter of two doctors, she was fortunate to have role models who encouraged her to push past racial and social stereotypes in order to achieve academic and professional success.

She knew she wanted to go into the medical field as a teenager. She was a student athlete in high school and held the 5A state record in the 3200 meter run for several years. In college, her desire to become a doctor helped her make the difficult decision to decline several athletic scholarship offers in order to focus on her academic studies.

Dr. Terrell graduated with honor from the University of Texas at Austin. She then attended medical school at the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas. There, she developed a passion for caring for children after going on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico, where she helped provide medical care to children and families, some of whom had never seen a doctor. Dr. Terrell then completed her pediatric residency at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and returned promptly thereafter to Fort Worth to work as a hospitalist at Cook Children's Medical Center. After 6 years of hospital medicine, Dr. Terrell transitioned to primary care.

Dr. Terrell loves what she does and feels blessed to be able care for patients and their families, as well as learn from them as they grow and develop.

On a personal note, Dr. Terrell still enjoys running. On any given day, you might see her running around her neighborhood with her dog and her 2 kids.

New and existing patients looking to schedule an appointment or consultation with Dr. Terrell can call 817-431-1450. To schedule an appointment click here.

Lisa Elliott, Ph.D.

Lisa Elliott is a licensed psychologist and clinic manager of Cook Children’s Pschology Clinic, located at 3201 Teasley Lane, Ste. 202, Denton, TX 76210. Cook Children’s Psychology provides care focused on children’s behavior, from ages 3 years through 17.

The Behavioral Health Center brings all services together in an expanded space that will provide a talented, dedicated team of caregivers, physicians and professionals with the facilities, resources, tools and programs they need to ensure that these most vulnerable children receive the high quality treatment they need and deserve. 

Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call our Intake Department at 682-885-3917.

Joy Crabtree, Psy.D.

Joy Crabtree is a licensed psychologist and clinic manager for Southlake and Northeast Clinic. Our psychiatry department helps children, ages 2-17, and their families who are experiencing behavioral, neurodevelopmental and emotional challenges. Our staff is specifically trained to work with young patients and our psychiatrists are board certified in child and/or adolescent psychiatry. Click to learn more about our program.

To access any of our services, please contact our Intake Department by calling 682-885-3917. To expedite your call, please have your child's date of birth and insurance information ready. For emergency situations, call 911.

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