Youth mental health admissions spike 300% in central MA during pandemic year

WORCESTER, Mass. — Young people and teens in central Massachusetts are struggling through the pandemic when it comes to their mental health.

“Eating disorders, suicide attempts, outbursts at home…aggressive behaviors,” said Gina Gardner MSN, RN, pediatric nurse manager at UMass Memorial Health.

At UMass Memorial Health, the pediatric floor and ICU has many young people who are admitted with psychiatric and mental health problems.

“We do our best to provide the psychiatric care we need but we are not a psychiatric facility – we’ve had kids here greater than 60 days waiting for placement,” Gardner said.

The last year has exposed a glaring lack of mental health services in the Commonwealth, especially in central Massachusetts, according to Dr. Brain Skehan, director of pediatric consult and emergency mental health services at UMass Memorial Health.

“Right now, because of the shortage in beds, we have a lot of kids that are getting sent to the hospital because they have needs and are sitting in emergency rooms,” said Dr. Skehan.

Young people are stuck in limbo in a medical setting, not a psychiatric facility, which is the level of care they truly need. They’re struggling with isolation and reintegration back into a schedule at alarming levels.

“At times during the pandemic, as far as the number of patients that we see, its been as high as a 300 percent increase over what we have had in previous years,” Dr. Skehan said.

As vaccines inoculate against the COVID-19 virus, the mental health impact is becoming clearer along with the challenges ahead.

“It is a pandemic thing – I think it’s going to last a minimum of another year of kids not coping well and if kids don’t get help we are going to see these kids go into adulthood and still have unresolved issues,” Gardner said.

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