“Thank you for everything. I thought I’d lost her.”
As the program director at McLean’s newly launched adolescent inpatient program in Middleborough, Massachusetts, Joyce Velt, LICSW, has had dozens of notes, letters, and phone calls from grateful parents expressing similar sentiments.
The idea of losing a child strikes fear into the hearts of families everywhere, and the last two years have seen a mental health crisis of epic proportions, particularly among the adolescent population. McLean has stepped to the plate to address these issues.
A Crisis in Child and Adolescent Mental Health
Younger patients have been particularly vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric illnesses during the pandemic, especially during remote education. Without a structured school day and face-to-face interactions to help navigate the pressures of adolescence, many are slipping into crisis, according to Velt.
“They’re also tapping into their parents’ concerns about the pandemic and the future in general,” she added. “That increases the anxiety levels of kids who are already stressed. Kids who in the past have been able to manage with outpatient care now need hospitalization.”
Wait Times Made Longer by the Pandemic
The backup of psychiatric patients in emergency departments (EDs), long a problem, has worsened as more people are in crisis. In Massachusetts, the bed shortage became so acute that in October 2021, the Massachusetts Hospital Association began tracking the number of psychiatric patients caught in limbo in hospitals across the state. Its weekly report captures how many people were waiting for psychiatric beds every Monday. The numbers ranged from 500 to 650 people statewide at that time, and typically, about one-quarter of those are under the age of 18.
“This is a huge problem,” said Kristen Lancaster, RN, nurse director for the McLean SouthEast at Oak Street Adolescent Inpatient Program. “We get daily phone calls from desperate parents asking for help. Their children are either stuck in the emergency department or at home, in crisis, unable to find a placement.”