Prior to COVID-19, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression and thoughts of suicide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data found that one in five children had a mental disorder, but only about 20 percent received care from a mental health professional.
“During Mental Health Awareness Month, talk to your children about their feelings and struggles,” suggests Randall Ricardi, DO, DFAPA, chief of Psychiatry at Phoenix Children’s. “This is our opportunity to reduce the stigma around reaching out for mental health care. By listening, maybe doors will open, and a life positively impacted.”
Whether they’re facing trauma from child abuse or loss of a family member or everyday anxiety about the virus and unpredictable routines, kids need more support now – among a more significant shortage of children’s mental health resources. Overwhelmingly, the pandemic has affected the daily lives of many of our youth – with them being less motivated to do regular routines and even activities they typically enjoyed.
“When I meet kids and learn their stories, there is something so beautiful and vital about each and every soul,” says Carla Allan, PhD, chief of Psychology at Phoenix Children’s. “Every child has a unique ability to change the world, to gift us with something only they can bring. Our youth are our best hope for the future. How can we protect and empower them to grow through tough times?”
Phoenix Children’s wants to ensure that children and families across the region have access to mental health care and support – when and where they need it. To that end, Phoenix Children’s is collaborating with our community partners, creating new relationships and expanding educational programs to ensure that kids are cared for quickly, effectively and with compassion in the most appropriate setting.
Phoenix Children’s Internal Resources and Partnerships
Bridge Clinic: When children come to our Emergency Department (ED) experiencing a mental health crisis, they are stabilized and treated quickly and then referred to the Bridge Clinic, which connects them with the most appropriate community pediatric provider for long-term care. Among the patients treated through the Bridge Clinic, we have seen a marked decrease in return visits to the ED, indicating these patients have received high-quality care and referrals to community-based support.
Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing at Phoenix Children’s: Pediatric experts have found that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect or witnessing violence at home, can cause serious, but preventable, complications in children and teens. In some cases, these complications can make it difficult for kids to learn and function well at school or home. Related challenges can lead to substance abuse, addiction, poor health and suicide risk.
The Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing at Phoenix Children’s serves children from ages 1 to 18 who have experienced any kind of ACE. Our pediatric specialists use effective, evidence-based approaches. Services range from educational resources to evaluation, resiliency counseling and multispecialty treatment options. We help kids strengthen their resiliency – the ability to face adversity and return to a healthier state.
Center for Family Health & Safety: Through this center, Phoenix Children’s offers many health and safety programs to support families with resources that help prevent injury, including gun safety and suicide prevention.
Crews’n Healthmobile: Thousands of youth live on the streets of Phoenix, many in desperate need of medical treatment. Nearly 20 years ago, Phoenix Children’s formed a partnership with Children's Health Fund and HomeBase Youth Services, creating the “Crews'n Healthmobile,” a 35-foot mobile medical unit (MMU) that brings free, comprehensive medical care directly to these young individuals in need.
Phoenix Children’s has three mobile medical units, who visit three fixed sites including UMOM New Day Centers, the largest shelter for homeless families in Phoenix; Children First Leadership Academy, a K-8 charter school where the vast majority of youth are living at or below the federal poverty level and are at risk of homelessness; and Phoenix Dream Center, which provides shelter and services to adolescents who are struggling with homelessness and are survivors of human trafficking.
Phoenix Children's Pediatrics: Children should have regular check-ins with their primary care physician (PCP), extending beyond a routine physical check-up. These check-ins should include conversations on the overall mental health and well-being of the child. If parents have concerns about their child’s mental health, we encourage them to communicate or schedule an appointment with their child’s PCP, as they also should be able to connect families to various resources.
Phoenix Children’s has an expansive primary care network with over 10 locations, throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area, which extends all the way to Cottonwood.
Phoenix Children’s + Arizona State University’s Social Work Partnership: In 2021, Phoenix Children’s and ASU developed a partnership to address mental health issues impacting our patient families. The university’s School of Social Work has 10 students who began a yearlong internship program at Phoenix Children’s where they learn from our behavioral health specialists how to appropriately interact with patient families on mental health issues impacting their child.
- 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- 1-800-248-TEEN (8336) — Arizona’s Teen Lifeline, staffed by and for teens
Phoenix Rising: Arizona’s highest-level professional soccer team, partners with Phoenix Children’s for the month of May to raise awareness about the importance of maintaining mental health. Phoenix Children’s physicians will be honored at the Mental Health Awareness match on Sunday, May 15, 2022 where the community comes together.
How to Help a Child at Risk or Raise Community Awareness
The following are a few warning signs of mental distress or illness in children:
- Persistent sadness and/or withdrawal
- Sudden, overwhelming fears
- Drastic changes in mood or behavior
- Harming oneself or someone else, or talking about it
- Changes in eating habits and/or weight loss
- Difficulty sleeping
- Frequent headaches or stomachaches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoiding school and/or changes in academic performance
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room. If they are experiencing any of the symptoms described above, talk with a trusted doctor, teacher, counselor or minister. Use the Mental Health Resource Guide to find resources in your community. You can also call or text the Teen Lifeline, a free, confidential, anonymous hotline for teens, parents or friends of teens in crisis, at 602-248-TEEN (8336).