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Coalition Declares ‘National Emergency’ in Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Year: 2021

Thanks to the NASMHPD for sharing this important resource!

 In late October, three national organizations – the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) – declared a “National Emergency” in child and adolescent mental health. The trio cited recent data in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) that indicated “soaring rates of mental health challenges among children, adolescents, and their families over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.” They say that the recent spike in mental health problems has exacerbated the already difficult situation that existed prior to the pandemic. It adds that, children, adolescents and families “have experienced enormous adversity and disruption, with inequities resulting from structural racism further contributing to disproportionate impacts on communities of color.” 

The trio explain that two major stressors – COVID-19, together with ongoing tension and struggle for racial justice – are combining to accelerate negative trends present before the pandemic, including rising childhood mental health concerns and suicide rates. By 2018, suicides had already emerged as the second leading cause of death (top cause: accidental injuries, with homicides third) for youth aged 10-24. The rise of the pandemic drove “dramatic increases” in hospital ED visits for mental health emergencies and suicide attempts, with ED visits rising by 24% for children ages 5-11 and 31% for children ages 12-17 between March and October 2020. These included a 45% increase in self-injury and suspected suicide attempts among 5- to 17-year-olds compared to the same period in 2019. 

However, the bad news doesn’t end there. Recent CDC reports estimate that 140,000 American children – as well as some 1.5 million worldwide – have lost a parent or grandparent to COVID, placing them at higher risk for lifetime physical, emotional and mental health problems, as well as poverty, abuse or removal to kinship or foster care. Among these and other young people highlighted in the report, rates of suicidality, depression, anxiety, trauma, and loneliness “soared.”