Adolescents, psychiatric hospitalization, and COVID-19

As widespread community transmission of COVID-19 in the United States continues, researchers say the focus must shift to the broader effects of the pandemic on health and wellbeing. In particular, they say it is important to understand the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on the mental health of children and adolescents.

adolescent wearing face mask leans on fence staring into distance

The rate of serious mental health illness in children has been escalating over the past two decades. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to significant financial and psychosocial stressors that are likely to increase the burden of mental health needs for youth.

Youth facing the most severe mental illness require inpatient mental health hospitalization. In a recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Polina Krass, a Penn LDI associate fellow and pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and coauthors report on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth at a local behavioral health hospital. The study details the medical and psychiatric management of 19 patients aged 11-17 who had COVID-19 while requiring psychiatric hospitalization. Caring for these patients required balancing physical and mental health care needs while providing adequate infection control.

The researchers also describe an innovative partnership between the psychiatric hospital and a local children’s hospital, which was leveraged to deliver acute medical health care in a mental health setting. 

The team learned three major lessons: Physical distancing directly conflicts with the mental health needs of patients; symptom-based screening for COVID-19 was inappropriate for the population; and the experience exposed vulnerabilities in the inpatient-outpatient continuum of care and highlighted the importance of medical-psychiatric partnerships to improving mental health care access. 

This article is by Polina Krass. Read more at Penn LDI.