ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Tammy Hanson says there’s been one positive to come from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s an awareness of mental health issues facing teens and children.

“My goal is just to keep her safe so she doesn’t kill herself,” Hanson says of her daughter.

Hanson and her family are no strangers to mental health and have been working with their daughter for the last five years and she’s making improvements. But a visit to the ER earlier this year was an eye-opening reality of mental health care during the pandemic.

“Typically prior to COVID you might wait a day, I think the most we had ever waited was 48 hours, in the emergency room. In this last case we waited four days. She was one of the lucky ones in that she was able to get an actual room in the ER,” said Hanson.

She snapped a photo a teen boy that wasn’t as lucky. He was left to wait in the hallway and she shared it on social media, showcasing the rising toll the pandemic has taken on young people.

“I witnessed so many adults and young children just sitting out on gurneys in the hallway of the hospital, parents sitting in chairs for days,” said Hanson.

To ease that burden, SSM Health Behavioral Health Urgent Care opened their doors for teens and children as young as five in November. “We’ve seen an almost 50% increase in adolescents and children presenting to the urgent care,” said Amy Konsewicz, the manager of outpatient behavior health at SSM.

Since November, they have cared for 93 kids between the ages of 0-12 and 186 between 13-17. While overall 2020 saw the number of suicides drop compared to years past, the growing concern for the mental wellbeing for young people is making health experts and parent advocates speak out.

Located on the campus of DePaul Hospital in Bridgeton, it’s the only one in the region and provides immediate access to behavioral heath care specialists. It’s open seven days a week and appointments aren’t necessary.

It’s the kind of place Hanson hopes to see more of, to ensure children in our community can access the help they need on a more timely basis. “It’s a hard thing to admit, I think 50 percent of the battle is going ‘ok my child needs help,’” said Hanson.

Konsewicz said parents should look out for changing behaviors in their child or teen and one of the best things they can do is talk to them. Ask them questions about how their feeling and encourage a dialogue.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 any time day or night, or chat online. Visit the St. Louis chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness at this link

Copyright 2021 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved

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