Parents, doctors lament 'devastating' effects of pandemic school closures as mental health crisis worsens

Family therapist Tom Kersting and pediatrician Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann blamed shutdowns for rises in anxiety, depression and more

Nearly two-and-a-half years after COVID-19 first took the U.S. by storm, parents and doctors are speaking out on the devastating effects that the school shutdowns and mandates continue to have on children, including a relentless mental health crisis.

"What I'm seeing happening – particularly with younger kids – is social delays, communication issues…" family therapist Tom Kersting told "Fox & Friends First" Tuesday.

"The biggest thing I've seen with teenagers is a rise in anxiety disorders," he added. Kersting said shutting children and teens out of society for more than two years is behind the decline.

COVID-19 SCHOOL CLOSURES TURN PARENTS INTO SWING VOTERS

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers' union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Jan. 5, 2022.  REUTERS/Jim Vondruska

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation's third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers' union voted in favor of a return to remote learning, in Chicago, Jan. 5, 2022.  REUTERS/Jim Vondruska (REUTERS/Jim Vondruska)

"[They've] been in their bedrooms, on their phones, and away from any human connection and the real world out there… their brain no longer assimilates to that… If you're not out there socializing and being a human being, your brain is going to send anxiety and stress signals," he said.

Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, a pediatrician, told host Todd Piro that the U.S. has seen a "tragic" increase in mental health issues among children and teens since the dawn of the pandemic, including in-patient psychiatric treatments. 

COVID SCHOOL CLOSURES CAUSED RISE IN MENTAL HEALTH ER ADMISSIONS, SUICIDAL IDEAS, TABLET MAGAZINE ARTICLE SAYS

FILE: Students and parents arrive masked for the first day of the school year at Grant Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, August 16, 2021.

FILE: Students and parents arrive masked for the first day of the school year at Grant Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, August 16, 2021. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

"We saw this through COVID, and the ramifications continue," she said. "Anxiety, depression, self-harm eating disorders, all of that started during the COVID lockdowns, and we're still seeing those children trying to recover."

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Berchelmann also lamented the ongoing struggle for children to schedule appointments with mental health professionals due to longer wait times. 

Talibah Hicks, a single mom who fled New York City because of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, also shared her children's experiences with virtual learning, COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates, saying the vaccine mandate prevented one of her sons from playing sports and said the transition to remote learning prevented her other son from receiving the education he deserved.