Looking to raise funds for expanded pediatric psychiatric services at Rady Children’s Hospital, the La Jolla unit of the hospital auxiliary will present a pickleball tournament dubbed “Dinking for Dollars” on Saturday, Oct. 15.
The event will be from 5 to 8:30 pm at Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle, 875 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas.
It will feature tournament-style play and clinics for children 12 and older and adults, plus food and entertainment. Registration ranges from the $20 spectator level to the $150 Golden level, which includes tournament or clinic admission, raffle tickets and a gift bag with a visor, towel, water bottle and more.
Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines tennis, ping pong and badminton.
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La Jolla resident Pilar Cardenas, a marriage and family therapist, said Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary La Jolla is dedicated to providing mental health services for young people because “you can’t have health without mental health.”
The auxiliary unit started seven years ago to support mental health services at Rady Children’s and helped open the region’s first dedicated pediatric psychiatric emergency department in 2020.
“It’s a standalone facility that is not part of the main emergency room that everyone gets funneled through,” Cardenas said. “Kids going through psychiatric crises need [that] because it is best to have them in a quiet, calm environment.”
But with rising demand, the facility has already outgrown its space. Plans are underway to expand offerings to accommodate more patients in both the amount of space and the services provided.
“While it is incredibly important to reach young people through schools and pediatricians’ offices before things become a bigger fire, the reality is that kids are showing up in their teens in huge numbers for the first time with an emergency at Rady Children’s,” Cardenas said. “What’s important is not just that they be seen in a crisis but that they be followed and given wraparound services when they leave, such as a social worker assigned to the case. … We all want to protect kids, and this is such a huge way that we can ensure their future success, catching them early and responding in a comprehensive way so they have somewhere to turn and skills and resources so that won’t prolong any more trouble.”
In the past five years, the number of psychiatric visits to Rady has gone from 250 per year to 250 per month, Cardenas said. Between July 2021 and June this year, Rady Children’s saw 4,479 pediatric patients experiencing behavioral health crises. Of them, 32 percent were triaged to the psychiatric emergency department.
“The numbers are alarming,” Cardenas said. “It’s really scary.”
While no one knows for sure what is causing the spike, some believe young people are experiencing increased impacts of social media.
“These kids think everyone is having a better life than them, that [others] are more beautiful or more popular,” Cardenas said. “They count the number of likes or get upset over negative responses [to posts]. There is heightened sensitivity to criticism, and they expose themselves to that now [through social media].”
The COVID-19 pandemic, she added, “hit kids the hardest” because they were taken out of the social setting of school. “That socialization is huge for emotional maturity and social maturity. And they got stripped of that. They also lost the structure of school and were around their parents and the stressors the parents have. I saw a huge impact from that.”
Though the need is growing, Cardenas said she is confident it can be met.
“It is going to take collaboration,” she said. “When we start to think about mental health as a community issue, we start to think of them as us. Our investment in our most vulnerable children will allow them to thrive and, in turn, will positively impact society on many levels.”
To learn more about Rady Children’s Hospital Auxiliary La Jolla and its pickleball tournament, visit rchalajolla.com. ◆