There is no shortage of news, seemingly daily, of new or continuing human problems that have reached the crisis point. Beyond the pandemic, there is the supply-chain crisis, a global energy crisis, the boarder crisis, a hunger crisis. This list goes on. I keep thinking that there has got to be a threshold where our minds just can’t take on the urgency of another crisis. That was before I read that the issue of children’s mental health in the country needs to be considered, not just as a crisis, but a national emergency.
A joint call for action was sounded recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association calling for us to properly address what they describe a “shocking” rise in families seeking urgent mental health help for their children.
ABC News reports that the children’s health advocacy groups highlight a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It shows that between March and October 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 when compared to 2019. For children ages 12 to 17, visits increased 31%.
According to the Children’s Hospital Association, in the first six months of this year children’s hospitals nationwide reported a 45% increase in the number of self-injury and suicide cases in 5- to 17-year-olds compared to the same period in 2019. Commenting, American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Lee Savio Beers said in a statement, “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.”
What they are affirming is that the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on mental health has been insufficiently addressed. According to ABC, an Oct. 8 report in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly journal, MMWR, states that from August 2020 to December 2020, there was a 13% increase nationwide in anxiety-related symptoms and a 14.8% increase in depression-related symptoms. While these numbers have shown a recent decline, “the severity scores for both illnesses remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.” The study included more than 1.5 million adults and recorded “19 different waves of COVID-19 to assess anxiety and depression symptoms.”
“We were really thinking about life or death,” says Dr. Panagiota Korenis, associate professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, commenting on the report to ABC News. “The pandemic has certainly identified the need to not just take physical health in isolation and really needing to emphasize also people’s mental well-being.”
That relates to other people, some might say. This mental health thing is not affecting me and the way I function. Really? Have you had to drive in traffic lately? The only way you can describe the way a lot of folks are driving is “crazy.” Since the lockdown ended in 2020, the U.S. Transportation Department has recorded a disturbing amount of speeding and unsafe driving on the nation’s roadways. As a result, traffic deaths have surged.
As reported by Reuters, traffic deaths in this country have increased by 18.4% in the first six months of 2021 from the same period a year earlier. The increase represents for the deadliest first half of a year on American roads since 2006. According to the Transportation Department, it is the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s history; a reporting system that has been in use since 1975.
Driving recklessly and endangering others is not the only risky behavior people are engaging in. As reported by NPR, the Federal Trade Commission’s annual Cigarette Report shows that, for the first time in two decades, cigarette sales increased last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in August, polling Americans’ views and reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, showed 28% of respondents describing “how the physical or mental health of themselves or the people they care about has degraded as the pandemic has dragged on.” Others described more indirect health impacts such as stress and depression. There doesn’t appear to be any inquiry as to the mental health of children.
“With all of the fear, grief and isolation the pandemic has brought, it would stand to reason that there would be a big jump in the number of Americans seeking treatment for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues,” writes United Press International reporter Denise Mann, “that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
According to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited earlier, the percentage of adults who had received any treatment for their mental health increased only marginally from 19.2% in 2019 to just 20.3% in 2020.
“The mental health care system was already stressed before COVID-19, but during the pandemic the demand for therapists skyrocketed, and the supply didn’t go up,” explained Dr. Vivian Pender, president of the American Psychiatric Association.” The supply of available therapists declined.
Says Thea Gallagher, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at New York University’s Langone Health, the number of people receiving mental health care may also be higher now than it was in the earlier part of the pandemic. “It takes time to see an increase in depression and anxiety,” she notes.
Gabriela Nagy, an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University in Durham, N.C. believes this lack of access to care can have a snowball effect on mental health. “You may not be able to get the care that you need so you experience symptoms longer, which makes your problems worse in the long term,” she tells Mann.
“(The findings) highlight what we have been saying since the early days of the pandemic — we are facing a mental health tsunami,” American Psychological Association CEO Arthur Evans Jr. says in an association news release.