Pediatrician receives "5 to 10 calls a day" from parents about kids' mental health

Nearly a year into the pandemic, teens and children across the country are facing a mental health crisis. Experts tell CBS News rates of depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts are increasing among kids. Meg Oliver checked in with a New Jersey 11-year-old boy who she spoke to in August to see how he was doing six months into the school year.

Video Transcript

GAYLE KING: Nearly a year into the pandemic, teenagers and children across the country are facing a mental health crisis. Many are still dealing with the stresses of virtual classes and social isolation. And for some, this is also coupled with trauma, food insecurity, and a parent's job loss, or even the death of a loved one from COVID.

Meg Oliver is outside an elementary school in Little Falls, New Jersey with more on the story. Meg, good morning to you. I'm really glad you're talking about this.

MEG OLIVER: Gayle, good morning. Experts tell us depression is on the rise among children and teens. At the beginning of the year, we spoke with an 11-year-old boy dealing with depression. Now, about six months later, we met up with him inside his school to see how he's doing.

Five days a week, sixth grader Rocco Testa leaves home to attend school in person in Little Falls, New Jersey.

Hi! It's so nice to see you again.

We first met Rocco in late August, when he bravely opened up about his mental health during the pandemic.

ROCCO TESTA: It was just me being angry at the world and everything, because of COVID-19 and stuff.

MEG OLIVER: Like most children, Rocco spent last spring inside, learning in front of a computer. Isolation took a heavy toll. But many of his frustrations faded after he returned in person this fall.

Are you still mad at the world?

ROCCO TESTA: No, not really at all.

MEG OLIVER: You feel happy?

ROCCO TESTA: Yeah, I feel a lot happier.

GINA TESTA: In September, it was like my kid was back.

MEG OLIVER: Rocco's mom, Gina Testa, is a guidance counselor in a nearby district where school is only virtual.

GINA TESTA: My students are suffering. They're breaking down. I have parents that are on Zooms with me, crying about what's going on with their kids at home.

MEG OLIVER: For many children, as the pandemic has raged on, their mental health has continued to suffer. The CDC says between April and October, emergency departments saw a more than 30% spike in visits from children 12 to 17 years old for mental health reasons.

Across the country, millions of kids are still attending school, only remotely.

Do you feel the kids that are learning virtually, their mental health is declining?

SHERRY GLASSMAN: 100%

MEG OLIVER: Sherry Glassman is a school psychologist in Rocco's district, where there's a hybrid program. Some students in person, and others are virtual.

SHERRY GLASSMAN: Our virtual students are dealing with a lot of isolation, a lot of screen burnout.

MEG OLIVER: Glassman credits Rocco's improvement with early intervention, proactive parents, and returning to school in person.

How many calls do you receive a day from parents worried about their children?

MARIA YEROVI: At least 5 to 10 calls a day, and it's all about mental health issues.

MEG OLIVER: Dr. Maria Yerovi is a pediatrician in New Jersey. She said the calls she gets are about kids as young as kindergarten, through college.

What are the biggest signs you should look for if you think your child is really struggling?

MARIA YEROVI: Not wanting to be involved in activities, not wanting to eat, just staying in their room, sleeping.

MEG OLIVER: In a September survey, more than half of children ages 11 to 17 reported they had thoughts of suicide or self-harm, nearly half or every day in the previous two weeks. They were also more likely than any other age group to have moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

What should you do if you think your child is going to harm themselves?

MARIA YEROVI: Straight to the hospital.

MEG OLIVER: And what should you do if you think your child is depressed?

MARIA YEROVI: Get help. Get absolute help. Yeah, call a psychologist, call somebody, get help for them, and for the family.

MEG OLIVER: Rocco told us speaking publicly to us about his mental health has also helped.

ROCCO TESTA: That definitely make me feel happy, and a lot better that I was making an impact on other people.

MEG OLIVER: It's not easy to talk about your mental health. Do you realize that that was a really brave thing you did?

ROCCO TESTA: Yeah.

MEG OLIVER: Why is it so important to keep this conversation going?

GINA TESTA: Because it definitely normalizes these feelings, and it ends that stigma of mental health issues. There should be no stigma around it. People need to talk about these things, and know that other people are going through the same things they are.

MEG OLIVER: One clinician at a mental health care facility here in New Jersey told me they are overwhelmed by the number of calls from parents of struggling kids. As we face this mental health crisis, Rocco's school psychologist says she hopes bringing kids back in person is prioritized. Tony?

TONY DOKOUPIL: All right, Meg. Thank you very much. Bravo to Rocco for speaking out. Tough issue.

GAYLE KING: Yeah, that's what I was going to say.

TONY DOKOUPIL: It got better. We like to hear that.

GAYLE KING: We all reacted, and thought that was so brave. I know he's not going to want to hear this, but he's a very good looking little kid too.

[LAUGHS]

Very good looking little kid, so I praise him and his mom for allowing them to come and talk so candidly. And I like the fact that he's owning it, saying, yeah, he's glad that he did it, because it will help other kids.

TONY DOKOUPIL: And it does get better. I'm glad he's feeling better.

GAYLE KING: It does get better.

TONY DOKOUPIL: All right, Meg. Thank you very much.