NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As children return to school, where there are more people who can spot signs of trouble, some experts are raising the alarm.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association on Tuesday declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health.

“There are a couple of things that I think are adding to the need to raise the alarm in this formal way,” said Dr. Mary Margaret Gleason, vice chief of Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters Mental Health Program in Norfolk.

Gleason explained the longer the pandemic goes on, the greater the impact.

“The number of children being referred for outpatient services is increasing almost every week. We’ve had weeks with 250 children being referred to our outpatient mental health services,” she said.

Emergency room visits have significantly increased too, with some children waiting days for an inpatient bed, Gleason said.

“We need to make sure children aren’t sitting in the emergency room waiting for those life-saving services,” she said.

In their joint statement, the child health organizations called on policymakers at all levels to advocate for a list of changes including:

  • more acute care beds
  • more money for school based mental health care
  • equal access to care for all families
  • accelerating strategies to address the shortage of metal health professionals

“The math doesn’t work today in terms of the number of children who need help and the number of professionals who have the skills to help them,” Gleason told 10 On Your Side.

CHKD is in the process of building a mental health hospital that will have 60 inpatient beds. They’re also recruiting with an emphasis on finding more Black and brown mental health care workers to better mirror the demographics of their patients.

One thing CHKD has done over the past year is added group therapy sessions. Gleason said they’ve been able to do about 50% more patient visits.

She contends the community must think outside the box.

“It’s going to take more innovative approaches to care,” she said.