Clinical director discusses how COVID-19 pandemic has affected children’s mental health

Reena Pardiwala, the TCHATT clinical director at UT Health San Antonio, joined Leading SA

SAN ANTONIO – May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine program (TCHATT) provides services for children and adolescents referred by their schools.

Reena Pardiwala, the TCHATT clinical director at UT Health San Antonio, joined Leading SA Sunday to answer questions about mental health in our community.

“We commenced in September of 2020 and through the 2020-21 school year, we were partnered with about 10 districts or so and we received 1,200 referrals. That’s a lot of referrals. Now this school year, we have partnered with about 37 school districts now and we have received about 1,800 referrals, and the school year is still not over. So it is a major issue. And it’s growing,” Pardiwala said.

When it comes to children, there can be a variety of mental health issues.

“I think what we see the most with kids is we see a lot of anxiety, especially after the pandemic. We see depression, there’s a lot of PTSD. We are also noticing, and I think more than ever, I’ve been working in psychiatry and in child adolescents since 2015. I’m seeing a lot of self-harming behavior, which is worse than ever before. And there’s a lot of suicidal ideation, a lot of suicidal thoughts. Of course, we always see in attention lack of focus, oppositional defiance. We’re seeing a lot more eating disorders as well now. So there are definitely things that have grown significantly, especially in the last few years,” Pardiwala said.

For a lot of families and parents out there, there are signs to look out for.

“One of the biggest things we want to look for as parents is isolation. I think that’s one of the first signs we start noticing -- our kiddos lacking interest in doing things. They’re lacking energy. They’re kind of hiding from family members. They no longer want to go to family events. I think one of the big things we look for at the schools with the teachers is they start noticing these bigger behavioral changes. So students are all of a sudden not focusing the way they used to focus or their school grades are dropping or maybe they’re isolating even at school. They’re not hanging out with their usual group of friends. I think one of the biggest things that we hear from kids nowadays are how lonely they are. So when kids start talking about loneliness, I think that’s one of the first signs. We really need to look at what’s going on with our child. There are also actually sleep issues. When you start noticing that your child is not sleeping as well, that’s a really big indicator that maybe something is going on,” Pardiwala said.

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About the Author:

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.