Study confirms mental health crisis among teens, especially girls.

Study confirms mental health crisis among teens, especially girls.

Record Numbers of American Kids Seek Emergency Mental Health Care during the Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on the mental health of people worldwide, and American children have not been spared. A new study has revealed that depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health problems have led to an unprecedented increase in the number of children, especially girls, seeking emergency mental health care. Unfortunately, many of these children faced long waiting times before being admitted to the hospital, highlighting the overwhelmed state of the system.

The study, conducted by researchers from Harvard Medical School, analyzed data from over 4 million health insurance claims for children aged 5 to 17 across the United States. The findings were striking: almost 89,000 emergency room (ER) visits were related to mental health issues. Comparing the first year of the pandemic to the period between March 2021 and February 2022, ER visits rose by 6.7%. The most alarming increase was observed among teenage girls, with a 22% surge in visits during this period.

Hospital admissions for mental health problems also experienced an 8.4% rise, and the length of hospital stays increased by nearly 3.8%. The most worrying aspect was the increase in waiting times for a hospital bed, which were 76% longer than before the pandemic. Clearly, the mental health crisis among children requires immediate attention and effective solutions.

Dr. Haiden Huskamp, the senior researcher of the study, emphasized that addressing the shortage of mental health providers and their burnout is vitally important. She suggests empowering primary care clinicians to provide mental health care, especially since the number of mental health specialty providers is insufficient. Additionally, developing interventions that can reduce the load on emergency departments, such as telemedicine, could prove effective in alleviating the strain.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly heightened awareness of the importance of caring for children and adolescents’ mental health. Driven by this awareness, it is imperative to improve the support system, especially for a demographic that is already vulnerable. As Dr. Huskamp aptly stated, “We need to do a better job.”

Dr. Victor Fornari, a renowned child and adolescent psychiatrist, expressed his concern about the ongoing crisis in youth mental health. He attributed the surge in mental health issues among young people to several factors, including social isolation, the influence of social media, financial pressures on families, the personal impact of COVID-19, and parental stress. These factors have created a perfect storm that has pushed more children to seek help in emergency rooms.

Dr. Fornari shared his own experience, illustrating the increasing demand for mental health care among adolescents. The number of emergency room visits at his hospital has steadily risen over the years, from 250 visits in 1982 to a staggering 8,000 visits in 2020. To address the strain on emergency rooms, initiatives like urgent care centers for pediatric behavioral health have been implemented. However, the shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists remains a significant obstacle. With only about 8,000 child psychiatrists in the country, far from meeting the estimated need of 30,000, waiting times for appointments have grown longer, thus increasing the likelihood of crises.

Dr. Fornari emphasized that every generation faces its own unique challenges, and growing up in today’s world is no exception. From concerns about gun safety and climate change to family issues and substance abuse, children today face a myriad of difficulties. He rightly stated, “It’s not easy for a kid to grow up today.”

The research findings reinforce the urgent need to prioritize children’s mental health and develop comprehensive strategies to address the current crisis. This involves not only tackling the shortage of mental health professionals but also providing children and adolescents with access to mental health care at an earlier stage. Moreover, incorporating technology, such as telemedicine, could alleviate the strain on emergency departments and ensure that young individuals receive timely and appropriate care.

It is crucial that governments, healthcare organizations, and educational institutions join forces to address this growing mental health crisis among American children. By implementing comprehensive solutions, enhancing support systems, and fostering awareness about mental health, we can make significant strides towards a healthier and happier future for the generations to come.


More information: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about children’s mental health.

Sources: – Haiden Huskamp, PhD, professor, health care policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston – Victor Fornari, MD, director, child and adolescent psychiatry, Northwell Health, Zucker Hillside Hospital, Great Neck, N.Y. – JAMA Psychiatry, online, July 12, 2023

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