The AAP, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health, citing the serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of existing challenges.
These organizations are urging policymakers to take swift action.
“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, M.D., FAAP, 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.”
Before the pandemic, rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide had been rising steadily for at least a decade. By 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youths ages 10-24 years.
The pandemic then brought on physical isolation, ongoing uncertainty, fear and grief. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers quantified that toll in several reports. They found between March and October 2020, emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children ages 5-11 years and 31% for children ages 12-17 years. In addition, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts increased nearly 51% among girls ages 12-17 years in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
Additionally, many young people have been impacted by loss of a loved one.
In the declaration, the groups emphasize that young people in communities of color have been impacted by the pandemic more than others and how the ongoing struggle for racial justice is inextricably tied to the worsening mental health crisis.
The organizations are urging policymakers to take several actions, some of which teachers can also advocate for in their own schools and communities:
- Increase federal funding to ensure all families can access mental health services.
- Improve access to telemedicine.
- Support effective models of school-based mental health care.
- Accelerate integration of mental health care in primary care pediatrics.
- Strengthen efforts to reduce the risk of suicide in children and adolescents.
- Address ongoing challenges of the acute care needs of children and adolescents.
- Fully fund community-based systems of care that connect families to evidence-based interventions.
- Promote and pay for trauma-informed care services.
- Address workforce challenges and shortages so that children can access mental health services no matter where they live.
- Advance policies that ensure compliance with mental health parity laws.
For more information, visit aap.org.