(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Children’s Hospital Colorado held a virtual mental health town hall on May 9 to address the mental health crisis in our youth, preventing youth from substance use, and tips on creating a routine for children when transitioning to summer schedules.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Children’s Hospital Colorado stressed the importance of our youth’s mental health.

“I think when we refer to this mental health crisis more broadly, we’re talking about the availability of services for children and adolescents who need mental or behavioral health is limited,” Licensed Psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Dr. Lauren Wood, said. “It’s limited in our state. It’s limited across the country. And since the pandemic, we’ve seen a lot more kids struggling and requiring these services… especially higher levels of care.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado shared that the month of May can be a stressful time with SATs, final exams, prom, and graduation, which can all impact children’s mental health.

“I think we’re all here kind of preparing for the end of the school year,” Wood said. “This is a time that we do see increased levels of stress in our kids and teenagers as the end of the year is approaching. And there is kind of a culmination and a pressure to finish things out well and so checking in about what are the things going on in their lives.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado said the number of mental health patients has decreased but the numbers have not gone back down to pre-pandemic levels.

The presentation outlined youth substance use and how individuals with substance use disorders are less likely to seek treatment.

“So, if as a caregiver or as a concerned adult or friend, you bring up the issue of substances and if they’re very defensive and want to change the subject really quickly, that might be a sign that they are indeed using substances,” said Behavioral Health Clinician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Mary Kay Meintzer.

Also discussed were the warning signs for parents to look for in their children, including drastic changes in friendships, a noticeable lack of or increase in energy when performing daily activities, and changes in appetite.

“This week is National Prevention Week,” Meintzer said. “So, what we want to do with so many things in our youth’s lives is to prevent things from taking hold and that’s certainly true for substances as well.”

Resources can be found online for helping parents navigate the conversation about teen substance use.

Local resources were shared in helping children who are struggling with substance use including Youth Healthcare Alliance, University of Colorado Department of Psychiatry, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Tips were also shared on how to check in with your child’s mental health by creating a plan in dealing with stressful events and having conversations about emotional health as a daily practice.

“There are a lot of things that can happen in the life of a child, in an adolescent, and there are a lot of things that we can do each day to try to help them feel better and encourage them to talk about their emotional health,” said Wood.

Another key topic of discussion was supporting children’s schedules in transitioning from a school routine to a summer routine.

“One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate as somebody who’s researched sleep and circadian rhythms and mood and anxiety is that we love predictability,” said Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medicine, Dr. Ben Mullin. “Our brains and our bodies love routine and consistency, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever deviate from consistency, but there is something true about, we tend to function best under situations where there’s a lot of predictability and consistency with schedule.”

Other tips shared in the presentation included planning a list of things for the family to do together, and having socially engaged activities for the child.

“This is a time when sometimes kids will go off to sleepaway camp for a week or two, or they might try a new sport or a new hobby,” Mullin said. “It might be a chance to meet other kids that they don’t normally come into contact with. So, all of those things are great and healthy and should be promoted.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado is prioritizing youth mental health with three areas of prevention and health promotion.

This includes education about mental health, promoting healthy social-emotional development for children ages 3-18, and increasing access to mental health services.