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Mental Health And The Need For Ivy

The following, written by Ivy's founder, was written in 2020 as her 8th Grade "Passion Project."  This led to the creation of Ivy.

Passion Project : Socialization For Children in Hospitals

Imagine being a child sick in a hospital with no one to talk to but doctors and your parents.  While there may be a million things that you want to talk about, you will not say a thing.  Your doctors are too busy and your parents are too stressed and worried; all the while you feel like you are missing out on being a child.  This is happening in every hospital around the world.  Hospitalization denies socialization to children.  This can cause children to feel isolated, feel like they are missing out on being a child, and has mental implications as well.  Due to this problem students can actively or passively assist in the improvement of the lives of hospitalized children.  Minimizing the implications of child hospitalization can be addressed through the actions of students.  It is important to remember that hospitalized children suffer from more than just their primary injury, and that the child is not the only one impacted by the hospitalization.

First, hospitalized children suffer from more than just their primary injury, they also suffer mentally, due to being hospitalized.  According to the article, “Play Eases The Fears Of Hospitalized Children” from The New York Times “In the last 30 years, research by psychologists has suggested that 10 to 30% of all hospitalized children suffer severe psychological disturbances and that as many as 90% suffer lesser emotional upsets because of the hospital stay.”  In other words, the effect of being hospitalized impacts most of the children that are hospitalized.  This is significant because it means that while hospitals may be able to cure the illness suffered by a child, the mental aspects must also be considered and addressed.  Otherwise, hospitals may be doing more harm than good.  While a medical degree is required to treat an illness, loneliness, isolation and disruption to schedules can be addressed by other people, including students.  According to a Child Specialist from the article, “Hospital Specialists Help Remind The Sickest Kids They're Still Kids” from NPR states that it is her job “ the hospital to make it easier for...[Kids] to be here and make it more fun.”  Furthermore, when child specialists are not available, the doctor’s state: “You're pulling [children] sometimes away from the parents. The parents are upset. The child is upset. It heightens their anxiety. You bring them back to the operating room, and it's a lot harder to put them back to sleep and ... give them an IV."  Simply put, adding a bit of fun to the hospital setting can make the hospitalization a little less stressful and more productive.  This is significant because, if hospitalized children are provided with interactions, they are more relaxed, and the entire hospitalization can be less stressful on the child, and more efficient for the doctors.  This matters because improving outcomes from hospitalizations of children is important.  If one of the keys to a successful outcome is socialization, then it is imperative that socialization be provided.  While hiring a multitude of Child Care Specialists may be cost prohibitive, socialization need not be limited to expensive caregivers.  Instead, socialization can come from within the community.  To summarize, hospitalized children suffer mentally, but the mental implications can be lessened through socialization.  Students can provide that socialization.  


Second, a hospitalized child is not the only one impacted by the hospitalization.  According to the article, “Parental Anxiety and Stress During Children’s Hospitalization,” “almost two-thirds of parents scored in the borderline/clinical range for anxiety at baseline and discharge.”  In other words, the majority of parents are also suffering anxiety while their children are hospitalized.  This is significant because, according to a nurse from the article “Anxiety in the Sick or Hospitalized Child from The Children's Hospital Los Angeles”, “Children mirror the behavior of the parents.”  If the parents are stressed or anxious, the level of stress and anxiety is increased in the hospitalized or sick child.  This matters because, if there are ways to alleviate the anxiety of the child and the parents, the outcomes will be better for the children.  Additionally, according to the nurse from the article Anxiety In The Sick Or Hospitalized Child from The Children's Hospital Los Angeles “distract[ing] the child by telling stories, playing games, working puzzles, singing songs, reading out loud or listening to music” can lessen anxiety in hospitalized children.  Further children's anxiety can be lessened by allowing them to “express feelings through drawing, coloring, painting, singing or writing.”  Simply put, hospitalized children can be helped by being entertained and the parents of hospitalized children can be helped by seeing their child entertained.  This means that if a student were to connect with a hospitalized child, the child would benefit from the social interaction and the parent would benefit both by being able to take a break, and by seeing their child engaged.  As a child, I was hospitalized several times.  The numerous contacts I had with various hospital staff, friends, and family, helped to pass the time, gave my parents the opportunity to speak privately with the doctor and address other family needs, and gave me something to look forward to.  In conclusion, anxiety of the parents impacts the hospitalized child.  Engagement of a hospitalized child decreases anxiety for the child and parent.  A student is the ideal person to provide entertainment and distraction to a sick child thereby resulting in a better outcome for the entire family as well as the child.

Some might argue that socialization is not safe especially in the current situation of Covid-19.  Many hospitals including St. Louis Hospitals are limiting the number of visitors for safety. Due to Covid-19 “Hospitals...began restricting the number of people who can visit patients.”  However, there are many other means of communication.  According to Melissa Mazmanian, an informatics professor at UC Irvine from The Atlantic “In Mazmanian’s view, phone calls and video chatting are also well suited to promoting 'deeper forms of human connection,' enabling heart-to-hearts even across distance.”  As COVID drags on, and even after, the use of Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Messenger and other social media video chat platforms are ideal for communications between hospitalized children and those in the outside world.  The use of the programs are fairly commonplace now, and are incredibly efficient and easy to use.  The availability of games, drawing and screen shares make numerous types of interactions possible.  Finally, the programs also allow for anonymity, should either party want to shield their identity.

Overall, hospitalized children and parents suffer while in the hospital.  However, with help from students, some of the stress can be alleviated.  Now image being a child sick in a hospital with a new friend, who you talk to and play games with regularly.  You have a million things that you want to talk about and you tell your new friend all of them. Your parents are more relaxed and calm.  They now have time to talk to your doctor and attend to your sibling(s).  You feel like you are special.  This should happen in every hospital around the world.  All we need to do to make this happen is have students donate their time to help hospitalized children.

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