Maureen M. O’Rourke is a pediatric critical care physician who graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Biochemistry and attended medical school at Icahn School of Medicine. She completed her pediatric residency and critical care fellowship at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and was an Assistant Professor of Anesthesia and Pediatrics in the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She has an Alcohol & Drug Counselor Certificate from Villanova University. As a pediatrician, she witnessed families severed by drugs and alcohol. After she raised her own children, she wanted to play an integral role in transforming the lives of families affected by substance use disorder. She became the Intake Therapist for Adolescent and Young Adult Advocates in November of 2019. I got to speak with Maureen on concerns around mental health and the pandemic.
Q. As a pediatrician what made you want to get involved with adolescents with substance use issues?
Given that I have personal experience in my family with substance use disorder I wanted to be able to advocate for these clients.
Q. While working here have you seen any changes in trends of patients coming in during the pandemic?
I have noted that the severity and acuity of mental health and substance use issues have worsened. Once engaged in the program I have noted that there have been transformations made on both the mental health and substance use sides
Q. As a mother with two adult children, what would be your biggest concern when raising children during this time?
My concern is mental health issues that may arise due to the diminishment of social interaction. During adolescent and young adult development it is critical to have the peer reflection rather than the maternal or paternal reflection of behavior. There has been a marked decrease in that kind of socialization. It is very disturbing.
Q. What do you love most about working here?
The Staff. Despite the gravity of the issues in which we deal with, we come together as a team. I’ve appreciated the comprehensive approach to the clients including behavioral, academic, and therapeutic focus on mental health and substance use issues. We have a comprehensive approach to the client and we develop in esprit de corps (a unity) so that we can optimize our potential to help the client.
Maureen is not alone in having concern for our youth during this time. When comparing data from the previous year, the CDC found that even with the overall decrease of emergency room visits this year, the average reported the number of children’s mental health-related emergency department visits overall was higher in 2020 than in 2019. For the period of mid-March – October the amount of mental health-related visits sharply increased by 24% among children aged 5–11 years and 31% among adolescents aged 12–17 years, compared with the same period in 2019 (1). There is no doubt that our children are struggling during these times of extreme isolation. In talking to staff from other behavioral health centers, they have additionally expressed concern for the volume of people in need of mental health services. This increase of need is seen in marginalized populations specifically. COVID-19-associated mental health risk has disproportionately hit disadvantaged and marginalized children and adolescents. Financial losses have caused increased economic pressure on low-income families in addition to ever-increasing disparities between families of different economic classes. Low-income families are less likely to be able to provide parental support for homeschooling while working to make ends meet. Telemedicine may be less accessible for children of low-income families who may not have adequate resources. Children and adolescents who have experienced adversity before the pandemic are at higher risk to develop anxiety and adopt dysfunctional strategies to manage the COVID-19-associated challenges (2). It is vital that behavioral health resources stay open at all capacities so they can meet the increased need for their services. Adolescent & Young Adult Advocates is fighting to help serve all peoples struggling during this time. We urge our community to stay informed, use the resources available to them, and to seek help when they or a loved one is struggling. With the vision of a vaccine on the horizon there are many things to be hopeful for as we persevere through these uncharted times.