The Austin Regional Clinic is prioritizing children’s mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Adapting to life in a pandemic has not been easy for anyone, but for many children and young people, COVID-19 has severely impacted their physical, mental and emotional well-being. At the Austin Regional Clinic, pediatricians work to ensure that a strong mental well-being in young people is just as important as their physical health.

Natasha B. Ahmed, MD, a pediatrician at Austin Regional Clinic Sendero Springs in Round Rock, said she’s always had a special interest in adolescent medicine, which naturally led her to focus on how mental health is changing and behavioral problems in children and adolescents.

“No matter how smart you are, [children and teenagers] They just don’t have the emotional range to describe many of their feelings,” said Dr. Ahmed. “They’re still processing it, so even naming those emotions becomes difficult for them.”

Identifying mental health issues in teens can be complicated, but knowing the signs to look out for can help parents know when a problem is emerging. dr Ahmed said one telltale sign is negative changes in routine, such as: B. Sleeping too much or too little, feeling guilty about even the smallest things, and reluctance to engage in activities that were once pleasurable.

Mood disorders can also show up as physical symptoms for which there are no other explanations. Whether it’s abdominal pain, tachycardia, headaches or constant tiredness, anxiety and depression can manifest themselves in many different ways.

“I have a fair number of teens and young girls who have stomach pains…then if you delve a little deeper you find that whenever you’re stressed, your stomach hurts,” said Dr. Ahmed. “A very common thing in children is physical symptoms that have an underlying psychological component.”

During the pandemic, social isolation and processing difficulties have also been catalysts for the decline in mental well-being. Although these circumstances are difficult at any age, young people have had to learn to manage one of life’s most vulnerable transitions.

“Several of my colleagues and I have had patients who have lost a parent to COVID and they asked, ‘Because I was playing with my friend and then my parent got sick, did I kill my parent?'” said Dr. Ahmed. “It’s an intense and complex thought for anyone, but extremely overwhelming for children of that age.”

The pandemic also forced underage students into virtual classes, making it difficult for some students with ADHD and ADD to self-regulate at home, said Dr. Ahmed. In addition to anxiety and depression, she’s seen an influx of new ADHD and ADD diagnoses as parents finally witnessed the struggles their children’s teachers had to help them stay on task or follow directions. Then, returning to face-to-face classes proved challenging for many struggling with anxiety.

“The transition back to classroom school is very difficult for them. They just don’t know how to have these face-to-face interactions anymore,” said Dr. Ahmed.

The biggest overlap and simplest identifier for ADHD, ADD, anxiety and depression is difficulty concentrating. When a symptom of a mental illness or behavioral disorder suddenly interferes with a child’s ability to function, it’s time to seek help.

“Mental health has always been underaddressed and underfunded, and the COVID pandemic has made that much worse. The truth is that the resources simply do not exist in the community to meet the rapidly growing need for mental health care,” said Dr. Ahmed. “It’s so helpful to have a pediatrician who feels appropriate in mental health care because we can’t always get them to see a therapist or psychiatrist.”

As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, routine pediatric visits to ARC for children 12 and older include evaluation for anxiety and depression. Patients answer questions about their emotions and habits, which help doctors identify potential problems and refer them to a therapist if needed, or open the discussion to medications if therapy is already underway.

“If we look at this questionnaire and see that it’s elevated, that’s a sign for us to talk more about how they answered the questions and, if necessary, to arrange a separate visit to talk about it in more detail,” said dr Ahmed . “That’s why it’s so important not to miss these well-controlled visits.”

Children can always discuss mental health issues privately with their pediatrician. They often share information about their emotional state, so they should be encouraged to spend alone time with their doctor if they choose.

In addition to screenings, ARC has pediatricians in each region who are able to provide a higher level of care through medication management that includes the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, anxiety and depression.

While regular mental exams are key to keeping up with a child’s overall health, Dr. Ahmed that parents can help their child at home by adopting an affirmative and non-judgmental attitude when their child is showing signs of worrisome behavior.

“I really want to emphasize how parents can start a conversation with their kids because I think that’s probably what parents struggle with the most,” said Dr. Ahmed. “Say something like, ‘I noticed you’ve been talking/playing/eating a little less, are you okay? Are you worried about anything? I promise not to get mad, but I’m here if you want to talk. “Kids who feel like they have a supportive family and support structure do a lot better.”

The Austin Regional Clinic has 23 locations throughout Austin and Central Texas with pediatricians to help determine the type of help a child needs and direct it to the appropriate resources.

Learn more about pediatric psychiatric services at the Austin Regional Clinic, read reviews for pediatricians in your area, and book a wellness check-up at

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