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COVID-19 pandemic cited as reason for increase in youth mental-health calls

  • With the help of Queso from Peterborough Police’s K9 unit, a local juvenile reportedly dealing with a mental health crisis was safely located and treated. —COURTESY OF PETERBOROUGH POLICE

  • Monadnock Family Services in Keene is experiencing a staff shortage amid an increase of juvenile mental health emergencies. —STAFF PHOTO BY JOSH LACAILLADE

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 8/24/2022 2:11:58 PM

This story has been changed since it was first posted. Individuals experiencing severe mental health emergencies are typically transported to the emergency department at Monadnock Community Hospital.

According to local police departments and mental health providers, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a substantial increase in calls among juveniles related to anxiety, depression and even attempted suicide.

Individuals experiencing severe mental health emergencies are typically transported to the emergency department at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough and Monadnock Family Services in Keene for an evaluation. According to Associate Director of Children’s Services AnneliesSpykman, Monadnock Family Services saw a 22 percent increase in juvenile intake this year compared to 2021. Spykman said the pandemic is the main cause of juvenile mental health emergencies. 

“We are seeing a lot of kids who are high achievers have anxiety and have a hard time returning to normal,” she said. “A lot of it has to do with isolation and social media.”

Local police departments, including Rindge, Greenfield and Francestown, are responding to increased juvenile mental health emergencies.

According to Rindge Police Chief Rachel Malynowski, officers learn to assist and control mental health emergencies during their training. She said making face-to-face contact, deep listening and directing the distressed individual away from the road are just a few techniques first-responders use to take control of mental health emergencies and ensure the safety of others. According to the New Hampshire Police Standards and Training Council, police officers are required to complete eight hours of ongoing training to maintain their certification every year, including de-escalation strategies, ethics and implicit bias.

Despite the additional training, Malynowski said more-severe mental health calls require outside help from EMS and local mental health experts.

“We pride ourselves on our de-escalation techniques,” Malynowski said. “But when you have a mental health crisis that reaches a high level, we immediately recognize this is above our training.” 

In accordance to RSA 135-C:27 from the State of New Hampshire Judicial Branch, a person is eligible for involuntary emergency admission at a mental health facility if they pose a danger to themselves or others by threatening or committing self-harm within 40 days of completing the petition. 

Francestown Police Chief Fred Douglas said mental health experts are not properly treating juveniles experiencing mental health emergencies.

“From my standpoint, there are certain facilities that don’t have the ability to handle these situations,” Douglas said.

Francestown Police recently responded to a severe mental health emergency regarding a juvenile threatening to attempt suicide using a noose attached to a tree house. That juvenile was evaluated by a local mental health facility, and released one hour later. 

On Aug. 9, Master Patrolman Joey Sweeney and K9 Queso from Peterborough Police responded to a juvenile experiencing a mental health emergency who fled their residence and escaped into the woods. It took five local departments to locate the juvenile, including New Ipswich Police Department, Mason Police Department, Temple/Greenville Police Department and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. The youth was transported to Monadnock Community Hospital for an evaluation and released the same day, according to New Ipswich police. 

Douglas said mental health professionals need to conduct more in-depth evaluations for the sake of the individual and their families. 

“You don’t have somebody who’s going to attempt suicide and only be treated for an hour and let go,” he said. “There is definitely a failure among mental health facilities.”

According to Spykman, local care facilities like Monadnock Family Services are dealing with staff shortages amid the rise of juvenile emergencies in Cheshire and Hillsborough counties. In some cases, suicidal children as young as 8 or 9 are being treated at local facilities. 

Spykman said local care facilities are struggling to keep up with the high demand for mental health treatment for children of all ages.

“Every single facility is understaffed,” said Spykman. “It’s not that we don’t care; we want to do our best. But we are seeing a higher level of burnout among our staff, the folks that are coming to us have higher-intensity needs.” 

To combat the staffing shortage, Monadnock Family Services offers group sessions for individuals dealing with mental health emergencies. 

Douglas said the rise in juvenile mental health emergencies takes a major toll on the individual, their families and first-responders.

“I have been in law enforcement for 45 years, I’ve seen it all. The pandemic has caused an increase in mental health calls across the country. If we are having these types of calls, larger agencies must be inundated with that,” said Douglas. 

For information on local mental health resources, visit mfs.org. For people experiencing a mental health emergency, dial 988 for the 24-hour National Suicide Hotline.

Warning signs for mental health problems in children

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health conditions can begin to develop in young children. Because they’re still learning how to identify and talk about thoughts and emotions, their most-obvious symptoms are behavioral. Symptoms in children may include the following:

-- Changes in school performance

-- Excessive worry or anxiety, for instance fighting to avoid bed or school

-- Hyperactive behavior

-- Frequent nightmares

-- Frequent disobedience or aggression

-- Frequent temper tantrums


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