ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Mental health experts are encouraging parents to be on the lookout for sudden changes in their children's behavior, as the risk of depression and anxiety rises amid the pandemic.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, rates of depression and anxiety were already on the rise, according to Titania Jordan, a Chief Parenting Officer with Bark.us.

Bark is a company that partners with local school districts and parents around the nation and helps monitor social media platforms, text messages and emails to identify potential signs of self-harm. In doing so, the company said it has detected 62,000 severe self-harm situations and prevented 16 school shootings.

"It's okay to not be okay, but you need to talk about it," said Jordan. "Kids crave routine and predictability and this is everything but that."

She said changes in appetite, falling grades and increased agitation or anxiety when around technology, especially cell phones, can be reasons to begin a dialogue with your child.

“I think the biggest thing is the uncertainty. No one can tell us with any certainty when things will be okay again," she said. "So it’s the fact that we don’t know when it’s going to be okay. Children crave routine, predictability, and this is everything but that. We cannot give them any answers so that’s really hard for a child to absorb.”

She said between July and August of this year, Bark saw a 123 percent increase in the number of emergency calls placed by parents and school officials. 

With increases in isolation and a lack of a normal routine, thanks in part to both virtual learning and COVID-19, some health experts worry there could be a rise in suicidal thoughts among children.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-24. 

Throughout the pandemic, some have argued the number of children who die by suicide will far outweigh the number of children who die from COVID-19, a reason for schools to reopen.

Jordan said the situation is lose-lose.

“I think you’re darned if you do, and you’re darned if you don’t," she said. "If you go back, teachers are at risk, children with compromised immune systems are at risk, loved ones and extended family members are at risk. Every life is precious, so to say, we’re going to lose 30 lives this way and 3,000 lives this way, neither one is a great option.”

If you have trouble talking with your child, she encourages parents to reach out to a pediatrician, school counselor or someone else the child is familiar with to help bridge the gap. 

After speaking with school administrators around the country, Jordan said she anticipates children will be excited to return to school in-person.

"I think they'll realize how much they miss it and appreciate it," she said. "The good news is kids are resilient and they're able to bounce back from trauma or uncertainty."

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

 

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