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ER visits for mental health issues increase among teens, young children

Pediatric organizations are warning of a mental health crisis among teenagers and younger children during the pandemic.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Leading pediatric organizations are warning of a mental health crisis among teenagers and younger children during the pandemic

According to the CDC, emergency room visits for mental health issues increased 31 percent in 2020 for people ages 12 to 17. That is compared to 2019.

"Right now for our teens, we have a state of mental health emergency," said Dr. Buster Lackey, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Arkansas.

According to Lackey, the isolation and anxiety brought on by the pandemic have only made things worse for adolescents.

"The problem with teenagers is they don't want to talk," he said. "They don't sit down and have regular conversations about what's going on in their lives much less about how they're feeling —  especially when they're feeling something that they already feel there's a stigma attached to."

That is why Lackey believes it is important for parents to look for certain warning signs. These include depression, loss of interest in favorite activities, changes in sleep patterns, anxiety, panic, and suicidal thoughts.

So, what if you think something is wrong with your child?

"You don't walk over and start just saying, 'Hey, you look depressed. Let's talk about it.' It won't work," Lackey said. "But when you can, find that common ground that they recognize it, you recognize it, then you can start having that open conversation and figure out what's going on."

If your teen comes to you asking for help, Lackey said it' is important to be receptive and create a safe space for them to talk about their feelings.

"I really don't care if you're in a Zoom meeting with the President of the United States," Lackey said. "If your child comes to you and says that they're having problems, it stops and that's 100 percent focus on your child. And I don't I don't know if we do that enough."

The next step could include talking to a school counselor, finding a mental health professional, or calling 911 in the event of an emergency.

Click here for more NAMI resources to help children and teens.

CBS News contributed to this report.

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