It is time to address the child mental health pandemic


We are in a time of social crisis that is severely affecting our children and families. The level of pathology child and adolescent psychiatrists see at all levels of care requires immediate attention to protect our children. The American Psychiatric Association and its member psychiatrists, along with the wider child and mental health community, are raising the alarm for the mental health of our children.

The deterioration in the mental health of young people appears to be related to the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Since the beginning of the pandemic, suspected suicide attempts among adolescent girls have increased by more than 50%, emergency rooms for young children (ages 5-11) have increased by 24%, and emergency rooms for teenagers has increased by 31%. These changes may be related to poor coping skills to help alleviate COVID-19-related stressors and disruption to daily life. However, the US healthcare system is ill-prepared to cope with increasing mental health demands and the severity of cases.

In addition, minority youths face additional stressors as underrepresented communities have experienced deteriorated health care outcomes, which is reflected in disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates, mortality and economic downturns.

The disproportionate harm of the COVID-19 pandemic to minorities and vulnerable populations such as refugees and immigrants, including high mortality and economic devastation, has helped escalate depression, anxiety, suicidality and traumatic losses in many youth. These results highlight the underlying effects of health inequality and the pandemic on children, adolescents and families. It also stresses the need for more health care and federal funding for children and their families, especially in underserved communities.

We can take action to deal with this pandemic in a number of ways, including:

ν Integrating mental health and care into educational systems across the country;

ν Raising awareness of mental crises among children and families in underserved and disadvantaged areas;

ν improving access to telepsychiatry, especially in areas with limited access to resources;

ν Support and further development of the integration of mental health care into primary care and pediatrics through collaborative and integrative care models;

ν Support ongoing efforts to manage suicide crises and safety measures among children and adolescents; and

ν Support for increased recruitment in psychiatric specialist practices and in the training of children and adolescents.

The American Psychiatric Association endorsed a joint statement calling on all policy makers to make changes necessary and necessary to support children’s access to mental health care and services, and has joined Sound the Alarm for Kids to do that Raise awareness of the mental emergency in children and adolescents.

We find ourselves in dire straits for the country’s children and we urge policymakers at all levels of government to act now to ensure that screening and treatment are available to all. It is vital that we address this crisis before it turns into a real disaster.

Jacques Ambrose, MD, MPH, Rana Elmaghraby, MD, and Stephanie Garayalde, MD are members of the American Psychiatric Association Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families. You wrote this Inside


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