COVID-19 pandemic causing mental health crisis for Pittsburgh teenagers

PITTSBURGH — “We predicted it. We just didn’t know when it was going to come.”

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger said it was only a matter of time before hospitals would see an influx of teenagers who needed help dealing with life in the midst of the pandemic.

Schlesinger is the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry and integrated care at Western Psychiatric and Children’s Hospital.

“What appears to be happening over the last three months or so is we are seeing more kids. We are having more kids wait to get into the hospital. More kids wait for services with their families.”

Western Psych has 59 psychiatric beds for adolescents, which is normally more than enough. However, Schlesinger says recently, there are some days when there are up to 15 kids waiting for a bed at one time.

Over the last few months, Schlesinger says suicidal behavior has been one of the most common issues teens are seeking help for.

“We see more kids coming in distress. We see more kids using terms that sound like adults, like ‘I’m on the edge, or at the end of my rope,’” she said.

However, there are different layers of stress.

Channel 11 spoke to a Baldwin mother named Dana Bush. She has three boys, and since the pandemic started, she said something was off with two of her sons.

“The first thing was a lot of tears, obviously. And then, it got to the point where they were coming into our bed at night, and at 9 and 11 that’s not very common,” Bash said.

Her 11-year-old son was a straight-A student, but his grades began to slip during virtual learning.

“I noticed that he had 19 missing assignments and several missing tests. When I confronted him, he broke down and said ‘Mom, I’m not used to this,’” Bash added.

Eventually, her kids went back to school in person, and they felt better. However, she knows not all kids are so lucky.

“It’s so hard to hear because a lot of these kids were perfectly fine a year and a half ago, and then our whole world changed,” Bash said.

Schlesinger told us that if you feel your child may be struggling, the first step is to have a conversation with them.

“Opening up the door to just say to a kid, ‘How are you doing? How was your day? How are things going?,’ And listen for what they say.”