With the national roll out of 988, the suicide prevention and crisis hotline, it is imperative to remember the importance of mental health in a child’s medical journey. Alarmingly, the prevalence of mental health diagnoses has been rising among children hospitalized with long-term conditions.

Anxiety and depression affect at least one in 10 U.S. children hospitalized for a medical condition or surgical procedure.

Mental health is an important facet of overall health in childhood and adolescence. Any kind of physical illness, surgery or treatment requiring hospitalization can cause acute psychological stress, which can disrupt the total healing process.

Child life specialists are trained to help the whole child and family unit, not just to tend to their physical condition. Through play, building coping strategies and allowing the child to have a sense of control and joy, child life specialists are on the forefront of mental health in a hospital setting.

To help alleviate stress, anxiety, fear and pain, child life specialists use core methods including medical play and preparation, procedural support, (removed text) sensory play and socio-emotional coping skills in their practice. To even further alleviate feelings of worry, children are provided with playful and expressive activities to help them learn about their illness, injury, medical/surgical procedures, hospital routines and the medical personnel that will be around them.

Most importantly, child life specialists are available to provide comfort and support, and to accompany children and families during medical procedures and exams, so they understand that they are never alone in a potentially scary and isolating experience.

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline offers 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress.