We are in a time of societal crisis that is strongly impacting our children and families. The degree of pathology child and adolescent psychiatrists are seeing at all levels of care demands immediate attention to protect our children. The American Psychiatric Association, and its member psychiatrists together with the larger child and mental health community, are sounding the alarm for our kids’ mental health.

The worsening of youth mental health appears to be correlated to the detrimental impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. Since the onset of the pandemic, suspected suicide attempts among adolescent girls are up more than 50 percent, emergency room visits among young children (aged 5-11 years old) have increased 24 percent, and emergency room visits among teenagers are up 31 percent. These changes are possibly related to poor coping skills to mitigate COVID-19 related stressors and the disruption of daily life routine. However, the U.S. healthcare system is currently poorly prepared to address the increase in mental health demands and the severity of cases.

Furthermore, minority youth are facing additional stressors as underrepresented communities experienced worsened healthcare outcomes as evidenced by disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates, mortality, and economic downturns.

The disproportionate harm of the COVID-19 pandemic to minority and vulnerable populations such as refugees and immigrants, including high mortality and economic devastation, has contributed to escalating depression, anxiety, suicidality, and traumatic loss for many youths. These outcomes highlight the underlying impact on children, adolescents, and families of healthcare inequity and the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. It also stresses the need for more healthcare resources and federal funding for children and their families, especially in underserved communities.

We can take action to address this pandemic in a number of ways, including:

  • Incorporating mental health assessment and care in educational systems across the country;
  • Increasing awareness about mental health crises among children and families in underserved and underprivileged areas;
  • Improving access to telepsychiatry, particularly in areas with limited access to resources;
  • Supporting and advancing the integration of mental health care among primary care and pediatrics through collaborative and integrative care models;
  • Supporting ongoing efforts to address suicide crisis and safety measures among children and adolescents; and
  • Supporting increased recruitment into psychiatry residencies and child and adolescent training.

The American Psychiatric Association has endorsed a joint statement urging all policymakers to make necessary and needed changes to support children’s access to mental health care and services and joined Sound the Alarm for Kids to help raise awareness about the mental health emergency in children and adolescents.

We’re in a moment of emergency for the nation’s children, and we call on policymakers at all levels of the government to act now to ensure that screening and treatment are available to everyone. It is critical that we address this crisis before it becomes a full-fledged calamity.