Pandemic triggered children's mental health emergency, groups say

Three major medical associations — the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children's Hospital Association — have jointly declared a "national state of emergency in children's mental health" exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many parents report grief, anxiety, and depression among children, citing school closures and forced isolation as the primary culprits.

"I can tell you that they're going to have a little bit of PTSD having to sit in front of a computer for six and a half hours a day," said Jean Rodgers, a parent in Baltimore.

Another mother told Fox News that her high school son's behavior changed dramatically during the months that his school shut down.

"He was failing. He fell into a deep depression," Blanca Tapahuasco said. "You could see that the anxiety was bubbling over."

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A mother to a 9-year-old son described a similar pattern of withdrawing and lashing out.

"He would have daily meltdowns, daily breakdowns — screaming, crying," Megan Holter said.

Suicide attempts among adolescents are rising sharply, most acutely among 12- to 17-year-old girls — by 51% percent, since the start of the pandemic. But boys are not immune.

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"He looked at me in my face one night before we went to bed and he said, 'I'm really just praying for you to fall asleep so I can kill myself,'" Holter said. "He was 9."

Psychologists and psychiatrists say that children feeling intense negative emotions when they're separated from their peers is not uncommon.

"So, it's part of their development to actually want to be out with people their age and they learn," Dr. Carol Vidal of Johns Hopkins Medicine said. "They learn about what their identity is."

Experts warn that parents should pay close attention to signs such as crying and disruptive behavior in younger kids and increased violence among adolescents.

The CDC is also reporting a dramatic rise in adolescent visits to emergency rooms for mental health crises.

If your child or a child you know needs help, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.


This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020 and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-24. The pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in Emergency Department visits for all mental health emergencies including suspected suicide attempts.

The pandemic has struck at the safety and stability of families. More than 140,000 children in the United States lost a primary and/or secondary caregiver, with youth of color disproportionately impacted. 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, and their communities. We must identify strategies to meet these challenges through innovation and action, using state, local and national approaches to improve the access to and quality of care across the continuum of mental health promotion, prevention, and treatment. 

—American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association

Read the full statement here.