Medical organizations declare children's mental health crisis

Pediatricians and psychiatrists are declaring what they are calling a national state of emergency in children's mental health caused by stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint statement issued Oct. 19, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children's Hospital Association said healthcare professionals have witnessed rising rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents and their families during the pandemic, exacerbating the situation that existed prior to the public health crisis. 

Children and families have experienced enormous adversity and disruption, and inequities that result from structural racism have contributed to disproportionate effects on children from communities of color, the medical groups said.

From April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021, COVID-19-associated deaths accounted for the loss of parents and caregivers for more than 140,000 children, with youth of color disproportionately affected, research from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows. Additionally, the medical groups note in their statement that rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide climbed steadily between 2010 and 2020 and that, according to the CDC, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24 by 2018.

"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 groups concluded in their statement. "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."

The medical groups made several recommendations, including boosting implementation and sustainable funding of effective models of school-based mental healthcare, and strengthening efforts to combat suicide risk in children and adolescents.

The federal government set aside $80 million in the American Rescue Plan for the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program and directed $20 million to supporting youth suicide prevention programs, according to the White House. The plan also provides $50 million for community-based funding for local behavioral health needs worsened by the pandemic; and $30 million for community-based funding for local substance use services.

Read the full statement from the medical groups here

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