Worsening mental health indicators among children in Alberta are leading some doctors to call it a crisis.

Doctors told the Edmonton Journal on Sunday that diagnoses and severity of depression, anxiety, and eating disorders have increased by at least 20% in the last four months, and some of them worry the worst is coming soon. 

While COVID-19 restrictions are looser than they were one year ago, mental health issues are being fuelled by return-to-school stress, less socializing, more screen time and fear about the pandemic. 

Youth psychologist at Koru Family Psychology Dr. Caroline Buzanko said 80% of her clients are reporting anxiety, up from 40% in April. 

Buzanko said in her interactions with patients, she finds they are more fearful in most situations. She described a recent experience where a patient went to Disney World for her 18th birthday. 

“She was mortified that someone would get sick before they went,” she said. “(Youth) are on edge all the time worrying about what will happen.” 

Medical director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Calgary Health Region Dr. Chris Wilkes has found a 200% increase in emergency room visits for youth under 18 for anxiety, depression and eating disorders in the last eight months.

“We’ll probably see a worsening or high level of (demand for) mental health services for some time to come,” said Wilkes. “We have a crisis in terms of a demand on our services that is outstripping our resources.”             

Psychiatrist at Misericordia Community Hospital Dr. Rena LaFrance attributes the problem to children absorbing the fourth wave anxieties of their parents, more deaths in the news and uncertainty about them catching COVID-19. 

Children under 11 years old who cannot be vaccinated are experiencing anxiety because they feel they are not fully protected, according to LaFrance. 

“There’s been fear about bringing it home to their parents and grandparents,” she said.

As reported by True North’s Candice Malcolm, COVID-19 poses a very small risk to children. According to Health Canada’s comprehensive database on COVID-19, only 2% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are among those under 20.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 17 COVID-related deaths in Canada among children and teenagers — 0.1% of all COVID deaths in Canada. The COVID case-fatality rate for Canadians under the age of 20, therefore, is 0.002%.

Despite the limited risk to children, politicians in Canada, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have continued to push for vaccinations for children aged 5-11