With child emergency room visits and suicide incidents skyrocketing in the U.S. amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a coalition of pediatric health organizations issued a declaration this week labeling the declining mental health of America’s young people a national emergency.
What are the details?
In the urgent declaration issued Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association warned that children’s mental health had reached crisis levels.
The cohort of health professionals noted that the decline of children’s mental health had already been a concern for nearly a decade, but that the pandemic severely exacerbated the situation.
“We have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the pandemic,” the declaration read.
They noted that “rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020, and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24.”
But, they said, “the pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country, we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts.”
Citing data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NPR reported that overall, in 2020, “the percentage of emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children between the ages of 5 and 11 and 31% for those 12 to 17, compared with 2019.”
The tragic rise was even sharper for teenage girls, specifically. Over roughly the last year, suspected suicide attempts for girls ages 12 to 17 went up an eye-popping 51% compared with the same period in 2019.
Last year’s mental health decline has also disproportionately affected children of color. Research published in Pediatrics this month determined that more than 140,000 kids lost a primary or secondary caregiver to COVID-19 — with a majority of those children being children of color.
In the letter, the health professionals called on policymakers at all levels of government to increase their advocacy for children and adolescents, primarily through increasing federal funding for mental health care and suicide prevention.
“We are caring for young people with soaring rates of depression, anxiety, trauma, loneliness, and suicidality that will have lasting impacts on them, their families, and their communities,” the letter stated. “We must identify strategies to meet these challenges through innovation and action, using state, local, and national approaches to improve the access to and quality of care across the continuum of mental health promotion, prevention, and treatment.”