The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other leading pediatric experts such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association are declaring a national emergency in children's mental health.

The serious toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed significantly, they say. Now they're urging legislators to take action as the mental health situation for kids has become dire.

“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,” AAP President Lee Savio Beers, M.D., FAAP, 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."

Prior to the onset of the pandemic, rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide had been rising steadily for at least a decade. By 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youths ages 10-24 years.

Because of the physical isolation of the pandemic in addition to ongoing anxieties and grief, the U.S. is now at a critical point when it comes to the mental health of the country's kids.

According to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that between March and October 2020, emergency department visits for mental health emergencies rose by 24% for children ages 5-11 years and 31% for children ages 12-17 years. In addition, emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts increased nearly 51% among girls ages 12-17 years in early 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.

“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,” said AACAP President Gabrielle A. Carlson, M.D. “We cannot sit idly by. This is a national emergency, and the time for swift and deliberate action is now.”

Young people in communities of color have been impacted by the pandemic on a greater scale compared to their white counterparts, per the emergency declaration. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that Native American children were 4.5 times more likely to have lost a primary caregiver. Black children were 2.4 times more likely, and Hispanic children nearly twice as likely.

“Children and families across our country have experienced enormous adversity and disruption,” the groups stated in the declaration. “The inequities that result from structural racism have contributed to disproportionate impacts on children from communities of color.”

Policymakers are being urged to take the following action:

  • Increase federal funding to ensure all families can access mental health services.
  • Improve access to telemedicine.
  • Support effective models of school-based mental health care.
  • Accelerate integration of mental health care in primary care pediatrics.
  • Strengthen efforts to reduce the risk of suicide in children and adolescents.
  • Address ongoing challenges of the acute care needs of children and adolescents.
  • Fully fund community-based systems of care that connect families to evidence-based interventions.
  • Promote and pay for trauma-informed care services.
  • Address workforce challenges and shortages so that children can access mental health services no matter where they live.
  • Advance policies that ensure compliance with mental health parity laws.

On Tuesday, the Biden Administration released a plan to address and prioritize the mental health concerns among young people. The U.S. Department of Education's plan, titled, "Supporting Child and Student Social, Emotional, Behavioral and Mental Health," is composed of a seven-point list of recommendations for schools and providers across the country to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of students and kids.