CONCORD — Experts said the pandemic has taken a toll on children's mental health in the Granite State, from social isolation and school closures to grief from loss due to COVID-19.

Brian Huckins, director of children and youth programs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Hampshire, said referrals for mental-health services have increased significantly in the last year, from counseling to family support.

He pointed out kids in crisis often wait days in emergency departments for psychiatric care.

"A lot of these kids are somewhat traumatized by what's happened to them over the past year, and the fear of what COVID could mean or could not mean," said Huckins.

Nearly half of the parents who responded to an American Psychiatric Association survey said the pandemic has contributed to mental-health challenges for at least one of their children.

Shea Lott, lead clinician for the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals, noted children experience grief differently than adults.

"For children, you typically will get a lot of physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches and those kinds of things; not wanting to do things that they usually enjoy," said Lott.

Huckins added in many communities, there's still a stigma around mental-health and trauma.

"Our younger generation gets better and better at this, the stigma piece," said Huckins. "They're so supportive of each other, it's incredible. They are looking out for each other, and they're aware of signs and when they need support. But there are still some families and some children that struggle with that."

He urged families to seek support if they think their child may need it. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also has a national helpline for treatment referrals or information. It's open 24/7 and is confidential, at 1-800-662-HELP.

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