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Kids in Crisis: More kids showing up in ERs for mental health crises, including in Maine

One hospital in the state is working to get ahead of this alarming trend.

PORTLAND, Maine — More and more kids are flooding emergency rooms nationwide for mental health crises, including in Maine. 

“There's definitely an uptick in volume and consistency,” Dr. Roslyn Gerwin said. “It’s terrifying.”

Gerwin is the Director of Pediatric Psychiatry at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center where she said they are trying to get ahead of the problem.

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A study by researches at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. found the number of kids presenting with mental health concerns in hospitals across the country increased by more than 50 percent over five years.

The average age was just 13 years old. 

Gerwin said as the only children’s hospital in the state, they are seeing it too—and the average age of kids showing these symptoms is getting younger and younger.

“Those are two unfortunate trends,” Gerwin said.

The National Alliance for Mental Health, NAMI Maine, is working to combat the trend by advocating for more resources in the state and programs in Maine schools.

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Mae L’Hereux, Youth Mental Health Programs Manager for NAMI Maine said kids are the most vulnerable in Maine when it comes to mental health.

"Social media and the digital age is a huge factor,” L’Heureux said. “In the state of Maine, we have higher rates of trauma so that obviously contributes as well as homelessness, food insecurity and parental mental illness and substance use."

According to the latest Kids Count Survey, child and teen suicide rates in Maine increased by more than 50 percent when comparing rates over the last decade.

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“Kids need to know they aren’t alone,” L’Heuruex said. 

At Maine Medical Center, they have introduced a new in-depth screening program into their regular intake process to try and catch warning signs early.

Still, Gerwin said it is just one step as they try to keep up with a growing problem.

"I feel like we're just trying to keep our head above water,” Gerwin said.

If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 1-888-568-1112 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.