Rochester pediatrician sees mental health toll on kids

Rochester pediatrician sees mental health toll on kids

By Kimberly Haas

Read the full article on Seacoast Current

A pediatrician who practices in Rochester says he is seeing the effects of the pandemic’s past 14 months on children.

Dr. Walter Hoerman, who works as part of Greater Seacoast Community Health, said children of all ages are suffering.

“Between the loss of their normal activities, the loss of peer contact, the increase in screen time, the loss of sports, the loss of clubs, we’re seeing a lot of mental health effects,” Hoerman said.

Even with summer coming, Hoerman said parents should be open to talking with their children about mental health and reaching out to the resources that are available in their local area, including pediatricians.

Hoerman said pediatricians can see children fairly quickly, while there is a backlog for mental health providers.

Hoerman has some advice for parents who think their child might need some help.

“You acknowledge the losses they’ve had and how tough it’s been,” Hoerman said.

In the month of February, there were over 50 children awaiting psychiatric hospitalization in New Hampshire.

Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order that all schools must return to in-person learning at least two days a week starting by March 8 on Feb. 19. He said during his weekly press briefing that week that returning to school would put more eyes on kids.

During his weekly press briefing on May 13, Sununu said he would be issuing an executive order to address the mental health issues being seen statewide for people of all ages.

Sununu said despite all of the progress that has been made during his administration, 2020, “was a perfect storm that really kind of pulled us back a little bit to where we were.”

“And today, unfortunately, we are back in a position in just a year where we do have a few dozen people waiting for mental health services. They’re waiting in emergency rooms,” Sununu said.

Sununu referenced the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling that the state had violated due process rights of people in a mental health crisis as they await treatment, and said instead of dismissing or fighting the ruling, “we are absolutely embracing it.”

“There’s an urgent need for the state to accelerate its work in increasing the number of available beds for emergency psychiatric patients,” Sununu said.

Sununu explained that he would be signing an executive order allowing Commissioner Lori Shibinette and officials at the NH Department of Health and Human Services to tackle the problem.

Patrick Ho, who is the immediate past president of the New Hampshire Psychiatric Society, is one of the people who spoke up when people working in the mental health field started to see the numbers of kids waiting for beds increase.

Ho said during a recent interview that he is pleased with the emergency order Sununu put in place.

“In general, I would say that I am very pleased to see that this executive order has been filed and submitted. I think generally this is such a great and important step to have taken to really kind of prioritize mental health care,” Ho said.

Ho said New Hampshire tends to focus on the higher level of care by making sure beds are available for those going through a crisis, but it is important that preventative resources are supported.

“These are very important resources that really function to keep people out of the hospital,” Ho said.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Contact Managing News Editor Kimberley Haas at


Assess your stress
To assess our levels of distress, we need to look for changes in four areas: our thinking, feelings, body and actions, according to Rutgers University Associated Professor Ann Murphy, of the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Director of the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center for the Northeast and Caribbean.

Maintain a routine
Cognitive signs of distress include being more forgetful, feeling confused, having trouble concentrating and difficulty making decisions. To take care of our minds, engage in different activities and hobbies. Try to maintain a daily routine is very important. Build breaks into one’s day to relax, mediate, pray, and practice breathing techniques, said Murphy.

Be kind to yourself
When it comes to feelings, Murphy said many people feel anxious, worried, irritable, angry, sad and depressed. There’s also a desire to disconnect from people who we normally like to be connected to on a normal day. Therefore, we need to treat ourselves with kindness. Use calming self-talk by telling yourself “I can get handle this” or “One day at a time.”

Stay active and fit
Our bodies can respond to stress with stomachaches, tight muscles, headaches and changes in energy levels. Murphy said people need to stay active and exercise and also maintain a healthy diet, drink lots of water and get a good night’s sleep.

Sleep is crucial
Murphy said she knows people’s sleep schedules have been wildly disrupted during this trying time but it’s critical to keep to a sleep schedule. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.

Look out for trouble
In terms of behaviors, look for changes in eating and sleeping habits, crying easily, increased used of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. Murphy said there have been increases in substance use. Also watch out for difficulty carrying out daily activities.

Stay connected
Reach out to others and stay connected with loved ones, whether that means phone calls, video calls or texting. Ask for help when needed.

Start a journal
Murphy also suggested keeping a “gratitude journal” to write down up to five things, big or small, for which you feel grateful several times a week. Think about something enjoyable, or an accomplishment or an obstacle you overcame. Be specific and write down details of the event, experiment or accomplishment. Try to focus on people more than things. Murphy said to think about being grateful for negative things that didn’t happen or an obstacle you turned into an opportunity.

More help
The National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP
The NJ Hopeline 1-855-654-6735
Crisis Text Line: Text any word to “741741”
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration”s Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

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