With Labor Day behind us, back to school is officially here nationwide. But the excitement of a new school year also puts a strain on the already frayed mental health of many children and families.
Data from the CDC shows that nearly one in five children in the United States have a mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but only 20 percent receive care from a mental health specialist. . The majority (70%) of US counties do not even have a child psychiatrist.
The pandemic has only made matters worse. According to the CDC, emergency room visits related to pediatric mental health increased by about a quarter to a third between April and October 2020 (compared to 2019). Youth mental health is considered such a crisis that the US surgeon general has issued a warning highlighting the urgency.
Little Otter, a children’s mental health startup launched in 2021 and which has raised a total of $ 26 million to date, is seeking to alleviate these tensions and support the mental health needs of families. Little Otter reports 40% growth month-over-month, with over 10,000 families using the company’s proprietary assessments and 85% of families experiencing clinical improvement within six treatment sessions.
Today, Little Otter announced that it has acquired Little Renegades, a children’s awareness and emotional well-being company, to expand its mental health toolkit for children and families. The company did not disclose the terms of the deal, but a spokesperson said the transaction is primarily equity-based and that Little Renegades will become a significant equity stake in Little Otter. Little Renegades’ core team will join Little Otter and its founder and CEO, Blake Beers, will serve as VP of content for Little Otter.
According to Rebecca Egger, co-founder and CEO of Little Otter, the acquisition fits Little Otter’s strategy of becoming a comprehensive platform for mental health and family well-being, regardless of the level of their mental health needs.
“At Little Otter, we believe that a child’s mental health and well-being begins at birth and that promoting mental health and identifying early signs of mental health problems are as important as providing clinical care,” Egger said. “At Little Otter, mental health support isn’t something you just look for in a crisis. We are building a product woven into the fabric of our daily life. This is how we teach good habits, reduce stigma and create a society that values mental health ”.
According to Egger, the acquisition of Little Renegades allows the company to broaden its focus and create a broader set of solutions to promote children’s socio-emotional health. Through Little Renegades’ content library, Little Otter will extend its reach beyond families in need of clinical services to include those who simply want tools to support their typically developing children.
Along with the acquisition, the company announces the launch of a new Back to School Toolbox that combines the resources of each organization. The toolbox includes the Little Otter Kelp line, an on-demand chat line for mental health questions, and Little Renegades awareness activity sheets and journals.
According to Helen Egger MD, co-founder and medical and scientific director of Little Otter (and mother of Rebecca Egger), mindfulness practices can reduce stress and anxiety and that mindfulness can be incorporated into cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of therapy that focuses on understanding and addressing cognitive patterns to treat anxiety and depression, among other mental health conditions.
Evidence on the clinical value of mindfulness in mental health is mixed. A recent study in BMJ Journals Evidence-Based Mental Health showed that mindfulness training in school did not promote mental health in teens any better than teaching as usual.
This observation can only underline the importance of this new affiliation.
“The more I learned about the pediatric mental health crisis, it became very clear that socio-emotional learning alone wasn’t going to solve the problem,” Beers said. “We need psychoeducation to be paired with real treatment and cure strategies if we really want to move the needle on such a systemic and nuanced issue as this.”
Manage mental health on the way back to school
Back-to-school stress is normal, but according to Dr. Egger, this year could be more challenging due to the accumulation of upheavals and uncertainties of the pandemic era.
“The disruption of society and the trauma of the pandemic have exposed the bad work we have done in prioritizing children and families,” said Dr. Egger, pointing to the trauma and loss associated with loved ones falling ill or dying from Covid-19 along with fear of the disease and disrupted social interactions and routines.
Early childhood trauma can impair the normal brain, nervous system, immune system, and stress response systems, according to Dr. Egger.
“Children’s brains are fortunately very plastic and children can catch up with direct intervention and support,” she said. “This is why it is so vital to invest in support for children and parents to help them during this time and beyond.”
For parents wondering when to worry about their children, Dr. Egger suggests reflecting on whether the child’s emotions or behaviors, sleep or appetite have changed. Beyond the normal fluctuations, he said that emotional or behavioral changes that persist, are intense, are pervasive in all contexts and for most of the day, and that don’t respond to your interventions can be a cause for concern. He also said to watch out for new onset stomach, headache, and / or joint pain, which could signal a treatable medical problem or reflect anxiety or depression.
Changes in your child’s functioning at school, at home, or in relationships; fears of sadness, death or danger that arise repeatedly in your child’s game; or even recurring negative statements about oneself (eg “I’m stupid”) can be a cause for concern.
“Listen to your son,” said Dr. Egger. “Be non-judgmental and open. You want your child to know that you care, take his feelings seriously and help him if he is in pain.
You may also want to talk to their teacher to understand what’s going on at school and support your child if you think they may need additional tests or services, she said.
“When parents feel that something is ‘out’ or wrong, they are usually right,” said Dr. Egger. “At Little Otter, we firmly believe that parents are their children’s experts, so trust your instincts and act early because early intervention is important.”