Three medical groups have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which they say has exacerbated existing issues.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association want policymakers to immediately address the issue.
“Young people have endured so much throughout this pandemic and while much of the attention is often placed on its physical health consequences, we cannot overlook the escalating mental health crisis facing our patients,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers said in a statement. “Today’s declaration is an urgent call to policymakers at all levels of government — we must treat this mental health crisis like the emergency it is.”
The rate of childhood mental health concerns and suicide had been rising steadily for at least 10 years even before the pandemic, with suicide the second-leading cause of deaths among 10- to 24-year-olds by 2018, according to the AAP.
The isolation and uncertainty of the pandemic have compounded such issues, the AAP said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing a 24% increase among children ages 5-11 in emergency department visits for mental health emergencies between March and October 2020, and a 31% increase for ages 12-17.
Emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts increased almost 51% among girls ages 12-17 in early 2021, compared to the same period in 2019, the AAP said.
Additionally, recent data shows more than 140,000 children have lost a primary or secondary caregiver during the pandemic, with children of color affected more than whites.