Three children’s advocacy organizations, including the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), on Tuesday declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health requiring urgent government action.
AACAP, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association, said that social isolation and other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—including uncertainty, fear, and grief—have exacerbated longstanding problems affecting youth’s mental health. A report in Pediatrics this month showed that more than 140,000 U.S. children have experienced the death of a primary or secondary caregiver during the COVID-19 pandemic, with children of color disproportionately impacted.
“We were concerned about children’s emotional and behavioral health even before the pandemic. The ongoing public health emergency has made a bad situation worse,” said AACAP President Gabrielle A. Carlson, M.D., in a news release. “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, their communities, and all of our futures. We cannot sit idly by. This is a national emergency, and the time for swift and deliberate action is now.”
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children aged 5 to 11 years and 31% for youth aged 12 to 17 years between March and October 2020. More recently, the CDC reported that emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts increased nearly 51% among girls aged 12 to 17 years in early 2021 compared with the same period in 2019.
Among other actions, the organizations are urging policymakers to take the following steps to support youth and their families:
- Make funding available so all families can access mental health services.
- Increase access to telehealth.
- Support effective models of school-based mental health care.
- Accelerate integration of mental health care in primary care pediatrics.
- Address ongoing challenges of the acute care needs of children and adolescents.
- Promote and pay for trauma-informed care services.
The organizations stated in the declaration: “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.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Long-Term Impact on Children, Adolescents Constitutes Public Health Emergency.”
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