Missouri facing pediatric behavioral health crisis; hospitals running out of beds for kids | St. Louis News Headlines

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — Hospitals across Missouri are struggling to keep up with the demand for children’s mental health services. St. Louis Children’s Hospital said it has had to move some children to different floors because the behavioral health unit is at capacity. 

Trish Lollo, president of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said they’re seeing between eight and 15 kids per day for behavioral health issues, including suicide attempts, eating disorders, anxiety, and psychosis. 

“It’s absolutely heartbreaking and it’s scarier really for the patients and their families,” said Lollo. 

Lollo said due to the high demand, some kids are being forced to wait more than 24 hours in the emergency room for a bed to open in the behavioral health unit. Lollo said waiting in the emergency room can create even more anxiety for the patient. 

Parents like Diana Pruitt worry about the impact COVID-19 has had on children’s mental health. 

“They weren’t able to socialize with their friends, especially for my daughter,” said Pruitt. 

COVID-19 restrictions made it tough for her daughter like many other children — school shut down, her activities stopped, socialization came to a halt.

Statistics show this statewide mental health crisis was brewing well before the pandemic.

Nationwide, the suicide rate for kids ages 10 to 24 increased 60 percent from 2007 to 2019. Emergency room visits for suicide attempts doubled at children’s hospitals from 2008 to 2015. The coronavirus pandemic intensified those troubling trends.

“While COVID-19 wasn’t the issue per say, it was everything we did to control the spread of the virus that we believe will have long-lasting effects and ultimately their mental health in the future,” said Lollo. 

The impact is felt at hospitals across Missouri. SSM Health said its new behavioral health urgent care in north St. Louis County has seen over a 50 percent increase in child and adolescent patients needing help. 

Lollo said there’s been about a 30 percent increase in kids showing up to the emergency room at St. Louis Children’s Hospital now compared to pre-pandemic.

She believes partnering with other hospitals and agencies is the solution to get in front of the mental health crisis. 

“Working together, I have hope we can turn this around,” said Lollo. 

There are several resources available for mental health assistance. You can find more here. 

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