Our Virtual Reality: Rapidly Responding to Changing Mental Health Needs among Children and Adolescents
COVID‑19 is affecting child and youth mental health and the ability to access to mental health services. IWK Mental Health and Addictions services changed quickly from in-person to virtual (video or teleconference) services in response to the pandemic and need for physical distancing. Responses from patients and families have not been predictable, and demand for services is at a record low. We had expected many more people to need care, however, fewer are doing so despite our concerns about distress and worsening mental health due to COVID-19. We need to understand why. Some youth and families are waiting until things are “back to normal” to start or continue their care. Parents or caregivers may be too overwhelmed with pandemic-related concerns to seek care for their children. Rural locations may lack internet services to support virtual care. And, while for some youth and families virtual care has improved access to services, some may not have the privacy or safety in their homes needed to speak to their clinician. Early feedback from clinicians has identified challenges in providing virtual care, but has also identified opportunities to better engage, understand, and support youth and families. We propose to: 1.Describe the mental health care needs of children, adolescents, and families in Nova Scotia during the COVID‑19 pandemic; 2.Evaluate the barriers and facilitators of the delivery of virtual mental health care, including the views of children, adolescents, families, and service providers. We anticipate the need for services will increase with or without new waves of COVID-19. We aim to match services to those who need them most. Better understanding mental health needs and virtual care will help us to plan rapid responses to changes. This will help us to identify and treat children who need mental health care in a timely way, support their ability to go to school, and prevent long-term problems.