Child and Adolescent Mental Health: A National Emergency

Three leading groups in child and adolescent mental health have declared a state of emergency for the nation’s youth.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency for children and adolescent mental health. Children and families in the United States have experienced “enormous adversity and disruption,” which was only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020. 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. The pandemic has intensified this crisis,” the groups wrote.1

The groups went on to call for government and advocate intervention for the following 10 items:

1. Increased federal funding for evidence-based mental health screening, diagnosis, and treatment, particularly for underprivileged populations.

2. Improved access to technology to maintain availability of telemedicine.

3. Sustained funding for effective school-based mental health care.

4. Adoption of effective and financially sustainable integrated mental health care in primary care pediatrics.

5. Strengthened suicide prevention programs in schools, primary care, and community response teams.

6. Address challenges of acute care needs for children and young adults, like the shortage of beds and emergency room boarding.

7. Creation of fully funded community-based systems of care that can connect families with the programs they need.

8.Support family resilience through trauma-informed care services.

9. Address longstanding workforce challenges, including intensified efforts to recruit and support underrepresented populations into mental health professions.

10. Enforce mental health parity laws through advanced policies.

“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. 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,” wrote the groups.1

“With the pandemic, many youth have been socially isolated. They have been attending school virtually, have not been able to see their friends, and have not been able to participate in extracurricular activities. Most of my patients have struggled academically with the changes and are having difficulty catching up. Although the majority of my patients have returned to in-person school, many have fewer social opportunities,” said Ann Childress, MD, a psychiatrist with a subspecialty in child and adolescent psychiatry, and president of the Center for Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine in Las Vegas.

Childress also recommends encouraging patients to get the vaccine: “In addition to providing usual care, I have found that a short discussion of the vaccine science in a supportive way has been helpful. Several of my hesitant patients have gotten the vaccine after an appointment or allowed their teens to get vaccinated.”

What measures have you taken to support child and adolescent mental health during the pandemic? Write us at PTEditor@MMHGroup.com.

Reference

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP-AACAP-CHA declaration of a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. October 19, 2021. Accessed October 21, 2021. https://www.aap.org/en/advocacy/child-and-adolescent-healthy-mental-development/aap-aacap-cha-declaration-of-a-national-emergency-in-child-and-adolescent-mental-health/