A group of pediatric organizations have declared a national emergency in children's mental health coinciding with alarming new emergency room statistics released Tuesday.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children's Hospital Association urged lawmakers in a statement to act swiftly to address the crisis.
"Children's mental health is suffering," AAP President Lee Savio Beers said in the statement. "Young people have endured so much throughout this pandemic and while much of the attention is often placed on its physical health consequences, we cannot overlook the escalating mental health crisis facing our patients. Today's declaration is an urgent call to policymakers at all levels of government — we must treat this mental health crisis like the emergency it is."
The statement from the pediatric organizations draws on statistics from March through October 2020, which showed that the percentage of emergency room visits for mental health emergencies among children ages 5-11 rose by 24 percent — and by 31 percent for children ages 12-17. The same study showed a more than 50 percent increase in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts among girls between the ages of 12-17.
"We were concerned about children's emotional and behavioral health even before the pandemic," AACAP President Gabrielle Carlson said in the statement. "The ongoing public health emergency has made a bad situation worse. 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."
The groups emphasized the disproportionate mental health effects on children in communities of color, saying that they have not only had to deal with the effects of the pandemic but also "the inequities that result from structural racism."
The organizations are urging lawmakers to act in several ways, including by increasing federal funding for mental health access for families, improving access to telemedicine and supporting school-based mental health care.
The declaration follows an analysis from advocacy group Mental Health America in July that found that most states are not ready to address the mental health crisis among children. The group reported that just 14 states have fully expanded Medicaid to cover mental health services in schools.