NEWS Mental Health News Why Children's Mental Health Has Become a National Emergency By Joni Sweet Joni Sweet Joni Sweet is an experienced writer who specializes in health, wellness, travel, and finance. Learn about our editorial process Published on October 29, 2021 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Aaron Johnson Fact checked by Aaron Johnson Aaron Johnson is a fact checker and expert on qualitative research design and methodology. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print Catherine Falls Commercia / Getty Images Key Takeaways Leading medical groups have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health.More than 140,000 children across the U.S. have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19, which can be devastating to their mental health. Experts are calling on the government to increase funding for children’s mental health care and strengthen programs aimed at reducing youth suicide. COVID-19 may not have made a huge impact on children’s physical health, but its ripple effects have wreaked havoc on their emotional wellbeing. That’s why leading medical groups recently declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. The joint statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association notes that children’s mental health has been worsening over the past decade. Rates of childhood depression and anxiety have steadily climbed, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between 10 and 24 years old. But with the stress of the pandemic continuing to exacerbate these problems, experts say children’s mental health is now in crisis. Here’s why. Mental Health Days Help Kids, But Systemic Barriers Prevent Widespread Use Pandemic Stress Harms Children When you zero in on the numbers, it’s easy to see why experts are sounding the alarm on the worsening state of children’s mental health. Nearly a third of parents say their child has worse mental or emotional health now than before the pandemic. Anxiety and depression among youth around the world have doubled their pre-pandemic rates. And emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among teen girls in the U.S. jumped a whopping 51% early in the pandemic, compared to 2019. Experts say that sweeping lifestyle changes during pandemic proved immensely stressful for children. “During the pandemic, children have faced so many challenges. In the best circumstances, youth have experienced some degree of isolation and disrupted learning,” says Stacy Doumas, MD, chief of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at Jersey Shore University Medical Center. Stacy Doumas, MD During the pandemic, children have faced so many challenges. In the best circumstances, youth have experienced some degree of isolation and disrupted learning. — Stacy Doumas, MD Teens especially have struggled with the disruption to everyday routines and the lack of social interaction with peers, says Sarah Edwards, DO, Assistant Professor and Medical Director for the Children & Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. “Teens have the developmental task of separating from their parents and becoming more independent. They are supposed to be building relationships outside of their family, and the pandemic interfered with this,” she explains. Another factor in children’s worsening mental health is the stress their parents and caregivers have experienced during the pandemic. It can be a huge emotional blow for a young person to watch “the person who is supposed to be their rock collapse due to COVID-19,” notes Ilan Shapiro, MD, FAAP, medical director of health education and wellness at AltaMed Health Services. “Seeing how worried they are about finances, to see them go without, and experience hunger due to job loss is devastating,” he explains. The Growing Acceptance of Mental Health Days for Students Deaths of Parents and Caregivers The rising rates of children facing orphanhood further compounds the youth mental health crisis. More than 140,000 kids experienced the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021. Such a significant loss can have a major impact on a child’s mental health and overall wellbeing, both in the immediate aftermath and over the course of their lives. Dr. Edwards notes that the circumstances surrounding the deaths of many parents and caregivers to COVID-19—including the sudden passing and inability for family to speak or visit with them in the hospital—can put kids at risk of childhood traumatic grief. “This is when a child is not able to accomplish typical tasks of bereavement because of a traumatic stress reaction they are having,” she says. “These youth are not able to move past the traumatic nature of how their loved one died, they have scary thoughts and memories about the way the caregiver died, and they may avoid memories or talking about the caregiver.” Sarah Edwards, DO These youth are not able to move past the traumatic nature of how their loved one died, they have scary thoughts and memories about the way the caregiver died, and they may avoid memories or talking about the caregiver. — Sarah Edwards, DO When a caregiver or parent dies, children may also experience disruptions to their housing, school, financial stability, and emotional support network. That, in turn, can have a tremendous impact on their mental health, says Dr. Doumas. “In general, children who have experienced parental loss are not only at a higher risk for many mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, and post-traumatic stress disorder, they may also have long-term negative outcomes impacting academic success, sexual risk behaviors, and self-esteem,” she says. It’s important to note that children of color have experienced disproportionately high rates of caregiver deaths to COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts. As time goes on, that could contribute to worsening disparities among communities of color, which often lack access to mental health resources. “We need to make sure that if there's another pandemic, that there are safety nets in place and more support for the vulnerable communities that need it the most. We need to do more to protect the future of our country,” says Dr. Shapiro. A Verywell Report: Parents Have Increasing Concerns About Kids’ Mental Health Advocating for Children’s Mental Health In response to children’s mental health emergency, the White House has put out a new resource with evidence-based recommendations for ways to support kids’ wellbeing. But this is just the first step of many that need to be taken to help children heal from the trauma of the pandemic, experts say. “In order to best address the youth mental health crisis we need an ‘all in’ mentality. Government organizations [at the] local, state, and national [levels]; healthcare providers; schools; and parents must work together to improve the wellbeing of our youth,” says Dr. Doumas. Increasing funding of mental health support will be key in reducing disparities among children of color, says Dr. Shapiro. “We need appropriate funds for mental health resources in communities in color. We need more conversations with policy makers on addressing the needs of school-aged children and a pipeline to produce more pediatric mental health experts,” he says. Ilan Shapio, MD We need more conversations with policy makers on addressing the needs of school-aged children and a pipeline to produce more pediatric mental health experts. — Ilan Shapio, MD Healthcare organizations can also take additional measures to improve children’s emotional wellbeing. “Healthcare organizations can improve access to telemedicine, integrate with pediatrics, provide trauma-informed care, and meet acute mental health needs of youth,” says Dr. Doumas. But while we wait for improvements on the large-scale, parents and caregivers can begin helping kids on the individual level now, by getting them mental health support when they need it. “Mental health treatment works,” says Dr. Edwards. “We are resilient and we can treat childhood mental health conditions and prevent future symptoms and challenges.” What This Means For You Children’s mental health has become a national emergency, according to leading medical groups. While problems like anxiety, depression, and suicide have been steadily worsening among kids for years, the pandemic has intensified these issues.Advocates are calling on policymakers to increase funding for children’s mental health support and suicide prevention programs. But on the individual level, parents and caregivers can do their part by recognizing what youth as a whole are going through and helping children get professional mental health support when necessary. Biden Administration Announces $85 Million in Funding for Children’s Mental Health 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Hillis SD, Blenkinsop A, Villaveces A, et al. COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death in the United States. Pediatrics. Published online October 7, 2021. doi:10.1542/peds.2021-053760 AAP-AACAP-CHA Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. American Academy of Pediatrics. Geiger AW, Davis L. A growing number of American teenagers – particularly girls – are facing depression. Pew Research Center. Bastiampillai T, Sharfstein SS, Allison S. Increase in US suicide rates and the critical decline in psychiatric beds. JAMA. 2016;316(24). doi:10.1001/jama.2016.16989 Cianfarani S, Pampanini V. The impact of stress on health in childhood and adolescence in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hormone Research in Paediatrics. 2021;94(6). doi:10.1159/000517460 Panchal N, Kamal R, et al. Mental Health and Substance Use Considerations Among Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Kaiser Family Foundation. Racine N, McArthur BA, Cooke JE, Eirich R, Zhu J, Madigan S. Global Prevalence of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Children and Adolescents During COVID-19: A Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. Published August 09, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2021.2482 Yard E, et a. Emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among persons aged 12–25 years before and during the COVID-19 pandemic — United States, January 2019–May 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2021;70. By Joni Sweet Joni Sweet is an experienced writer who specializes in health, wellness, travel, and finance. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? 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