By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4)– A national state of emergency for pediatric mental health was declared last year and Colorado is working to protect its youngest residents. This is the time of year when the highest number of young people seek mental health treatment.

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As summer break nears, unique stressors can threaten the well-being of school age children.

The City of Denver held its first Youth Mental Health Summit this week, welcoming hundreds of young people and their parents. Therapists throughout the Metro area say they’ve seen an increase in child and teen clients.

Licensed therapist, Joy Ewing, says the youngest child she’s seen is 4 years old.

She says the impact of the pandemic has taken a toll on everyone, especially young people.

“I’m seeing way more youth coming into the practice, especially teenage girls,” said Ewing. “They’re dealing with suicidal thoughts. They’re dealing with cutting, they’re dealing with depression, with anxiety.”

The state has made accessing mental health care more accessible. Last year, the Colorado Department of Human Services created a free therapy program for youth and has already provided more than 6,800 sessions. That program is now under the direction of the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration.

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“Most of the time when parents get to a place where they’re bringing their child into therapy, they’ve exhausted all avenues,” said Ewing. “They’re really looking to help their child do better and so by then, they’re really a lot more motivated.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado says they’ve seen a 47% increase in patients visiting its emergency departments for behavioral health concerns.

The hospital held a virtual roundtable for parents to learn about the stressors many children face at the end of the school year.

“Kids thrive when their environments are structured and predictable and when they know what’s coming, when it’s coming, how it’s coming and what they’re going to be expected to do,” said Dr. Lauren Eckhart. “The end of the year gets really unpredictable.”

End of the school year stress tied to academics can also weigh heavily on children.

Ewing says there are signs parents can look for to better understand their child’s mental health.

“They might notice changes in their regular routine, like eating more or eating less. Maybe they’re sleeping more, sleeping less, isolating themselves from their peers, or isolating themselves from you,” Ewing. “You might notice changes in their mood or more outbursts.”

Whether it’s on the couch in her office or the couch in your home, it’s important to start taking care of your mental health.

“Start talking to your teens and asking them questions and seeing where they are when it comes to their mental health,” said Ewing. “Ask them if they’re feeling overwhelmed and support them.”

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CBS News Colorado is partnering with MTV on “Mental Health is Health” seeking to improve mental health in our community by normalizing conversation about mental health, sharing resources, and highlighting groups taking action to help others thrive.

Tori Mason