teenager and therapist looking at phone

Children’s Mental Health Crisis: Experts Declare a National Emergency

Struggling to stay on track at school, being isolated from their friends, missing major milestones amid a global pandemic. Since the onset of COVID-19 nearly two years ago, one thing has become increasingly clear: The kids are not okay.

The pandemic has taken a toll on all of us in many ways, but recent statistics show alarming numbers of children and teenagers suffering from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. So alarming that according to the nation’s top pediatric health experts, the United States is in the midst of a national emergency. Just this month, the Surgeon General of the United States issued a public health advisory in response to this increase among young people reporting mental health challenges, which surged during the pandemic.

It will take all of us – parents, teachers, advocates, policymakers, therapists – working together to address this crisis. Here’s how.

The first step in addressing this emergency is getting kids the help they need. Ravel Mental Health can help therapists connect with parents seeking counseling services for their children.

A Rise in Mental Health Problems

Even before the pandemic, many children in the United States were dealing with mental health problems without support. In early 2020, the CDC reported that 1 in 5 children had a diagnosed mental illness, but only 20% had received care from a mental health specialist. The pandemic has only exacerbated many of these issues.

The past 20 months have been a shadow of a typical childhood for most children and teenagers. Instead, they have endured strict stay-at-home orders, repeated closures of school, social distancing from friends and other supports, limited or no access to extracurricular activities, instability in the home, and many missed milestones. These events have catalyzed mental health difficulties in children and teenagers.

Approximately 70% of children and teenagers say the pandemic has affected their mental health. It isn’t surprising then that since the start of the pandemic, hospitals have reported more mental health emergencies among kids.

The percentage of emergency department visits for mental health emergencies among children between the ages of 5 and 11 has risen by 24%. For children between the ages of 12 and 17, it has risen 31%. Teenage girls are particularly at risk. Suicide attempt emergency department visits among girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were 50% higher in 2021 than in 2019. In addition, studies show that LGBTQ youth and children of color may be especially vulnerable to pandemic-related mental health consequences, such as anxiety and depression.

A Strain on the Mental Healthcare System

This meteoric rise in the number of children who need mental health help has strained the mental healthcare system and made access to care that much more difficult. Approximately 75% of children and teenagers who experience a mental health problem aren’t getting the help they need. This is another significant factor behind the crisis.

The United States has long struggled to provide an adequate mental healthcare system for children and teens. And since the pandemic, there is not only a crisis of rising mental health issues but also a crisis of access.

A limitation to access help is not the cause of the rising mental health issues. But, as with physical conditions, mental health problems can get worse if left untreated or not treated in a timely fashion. When mental health problems spiral into unmanageable conditions, that’s when the situation becomes dangerous, such as an uptick in suicide attempts. This is where not having access to care is the problem.

There are many reasons why a family doesn’t have access to care for their child or teenager, including lack of insurance coverage, inability to find a provider within their area, or not realizing that their child needs help. There are also more disparities for children and teenagers of color, Indigenous youth, and LGBTQ youth, making it difficult for many vulnerable young people to get the supports they need to thrive.

To make matters worse, many schools are short-staffed when it comes to mental health providers. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends one mental health professional for every 500 students. Only one state (Maine) currently meets that standard.

And it’s not just schools. Lack of mental healthcare professionals is a universal problem in the country’s mental healthcare system. Nearly every state has a severe shortage of child mental health professionals. On the surface, children’s mental healthcare services seem to be better than ever – with expanding resources in schools, crime prevention organizations, and local community services. But beyond the surface, the pressure is building.

Although there are more services for children and teenagers than ever before, many are chronically understaffed and cannot meet demand. This has created an illusion of success, while the reality is ever-increasing waiting lists and staff shortages.

The Time to Act Is Now

One good thing to come out of the pandemic is that it lowered the stigma around mental health. It also prompted many government agencies, including the federal government, to place a newfound emphasis on youth mental health. But there is still more that needs to be done to address this crisis.

What Parents Can Do

  • Maintain a routine with your child. Studies show that children thrive with structure, and that predictable routines can help protect their mental health during these tough times.
  • Become aware of the risk factors and warning signs that can lead to suicide.
  • Make yourself available to talk with your child and practice having caring and patient conversations with them.
  • Know that help is always available. If you decide to seek professional help, research to find a therapist both you and your child feel comfortable with.

What Community Members Can Do

  • Urge local, state, and federal legislators to invest in programs that support children’s mental health.
  • Support community-based programs through donations or volunteer work.
  • Vote in local and federal elections, and pay attention to any local bills that may come up regarding these issues.

What Therapists Can Do

  • Engage in pro-bono counseling. Organizations such as Volunteers of America work with mental health professionals to provide behavioral health services to students right at school.
  • Get additional training in areas like trauma-informed counseling to better support children and teenagers impacted by the pandemic.
  • Build professional relationships with local pediatricians and family physicians who may need your advice or support when working with youth suffering from mental health problems.
  • Offer new models of care such as teletherapy services that are adaptable and scalable to increase options for families. 
  • Increase accessibility by making your services easy to find online.

Ravel Mental Health

Ravel Mental Health is an online platform that makes it easier for parents to find the right therapist for their child through its comprehensive filter. This means parents can easily find providers in their area who have the clinical skillset to help their child or teenager. It also removes several barriers to booking an appointment by allowing parents to book an appointment on the spot instead of spending lots of time calling various providers, only to be turned down due to a lack of openings.

Finally, Ravel Mental Health helps providers run their business more efficiently, benefiting clients and reducing the number of people turned away due to lack of availability.

We can meet this challenge together. Sign up for Ravel Mental Health today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top