According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the COVID pandemic has resulted in a 31% increase in middle and high school aged kids visiting hospital emergency rooms for panic and anxiety attacks.

Jen Velten, the program coordinator at Care Plus in North Jersey, said this is not surprising because the health emergency is extremely stressful with no end in sight.

"This compound chronic stress is leading more of our youth to become affected with mental health concerns," she said.

She said this stress has been made worse by the loss of certain coping strategies.

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“Things like sports and getting together were not on the table for several months,” she said.

Velten said not being in school in person all the time has also impacted the situation because teachers and guidance counselors typically act as early warning systems, picking up on problems that are developing before they boil over.

She also pointed out many parents may not know how to access the system of care that’s available to children in the Garden State, “and therefore the ER is the only place to go.”

To address this stress and anxiety she said it’s important for parents to have continued and frequent conversations with their kids to address what is impacting them and what they feel hopeful about.

She said for more significant issues, talk therapy and short-term medication might be necessary.

She said engaging in activities with others is important.

She stressed parents and kids need to understand there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about because “this is completely normal given the crazy circumstance we’re in.”

Velten added maintaining our perspective and fostering a sense of hope is important for everybody.

“Right now things are still a little scary, yes,” she said. “But how far have we come in more than a year since we’ve been dealing with this.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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