Tulare County sees spike in mental health hospitalizations in September, October

Officials in the South Valley are especially concerned about children who are struggling to adapt to distance learning and feeling anxious or alone.
TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Tulare County Behavioral Health says they are helping a record number of residents who are having a mental health crisis and need to be hospitalized because they are at risk of harming themselves, hurting someone else, or aren't able to take care of themselves.

Many of those patients have never gotten help before.

But experts believe they need it now because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

"There's so many challenges right now in society, in our communities, and so adults are trying to weather these issues and then the impact to the kiddos," said Tulare County Behavioral Health's Casie Ennis. "The spikes have been similar, especially for September and October for adults and youth."

Officials in the South Valley are especially concerned about children who are struggling to adapt to distance learning and feeling anxious or alone.

33 youth were placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold in September - that's nearly three times as many as in August.

The final numbers aren't available yet, but Ennis believes October will mirror the September statistics.

"We're seeing it just this week with just a lot of kiddos going into our ER for extra support," Ennis said.

A hospitalization (at an in-patient mental health facility) can be traumatizing, so Ennis encourages families to get help before their child reaches the level of a crisis.

The county provides mental health services to the uninsured or Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Others should contact their own insurance company first.

Ennis explained some ways to know if a child might need help.

"Are they isolating themselves?" she said. "Are they demonstrating heavy emotion in times where maybe they wouldn't have before? Are they doing all the activities that they previously enjoyed doing or are they not?"

Tulare County Supervisor Pete Vander Poel says a lot of that isolation comes from kids not being on school campuses.

"They need that social interaction, that social setting for their mental health as well as their own individual well-being," he said.

On Friday, Visalia Unified School District announced that their elementary school waiver for in-person instruction was approved.

As it stands, Tulare County's COVID-19 numbers need to improve before all grade levels can return to the classroom.

Given the pandemic won't end overnight, health officials say don't expect to see the demand for mental health services slow down anytime soon.

However, there are some things kids and adults can do to take care of their mental health right now.

Ennis encourages everyone to spend some time outside, connect with family and friends, and put that phone down for a while.

If it's a crisis, Tulare County's mental health crisis line is 1-800-320-1616.
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