By Amy Knight, The Hill
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has left its mark all over the world, but a mental health epidemic is questioning the capacity of health systems, especially in children’s hospitals.
Now health policymakers and leaders need to act quickly to address the dizzying crisis in children’s mental health. The closure of schools due to the pandemic has had a significant impact on children who were isolated from social life, extracurricular activities or even family events.
Isolation due to the pandemic has left children without access to school resources and health services. As a result, visits to the pediatric emergency department for serious mental health problems are on the rise.
Between April and October last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that U.S. hospitals saw a 24 percent increase in mental health emergency department visits for children ages 5 to 11 to 31 percent, reports abcnews.al
This dramatic increase is overloading hospitals.
Last month, Tami Benton, a General Psychiatrist at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, spoke about the risk the mental health epidemic posed to children and families. As a result, the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, where 95 percent of outpatient health care is provided, now has up to 50 patients a day on the waiting list for people with mental health problems.
Benton’s testimony is consistent with the experiences of children’s hospitals across the country, where capacity constraints are so great that children and young people are sometimes forced to wait, in emergency rooms and other beds unsuitable for the care of special they need, until they have access to psychiatric unit beds, often in other states.
Most troubling is the fact that children’s hospitals are usually the only way for families seeking health care for their children. It is worth noting that the pandemic has coincided with a dramatic increase in youth suicide rates.
Last year, the Cook Child Health System in Fort Worth, Texas reported a record number of suicides marking the first time that suicide was the leading cause of death due to hospital trauma.
While the pandemic has exacerbated the youth mental health crisis, this fact has gone in the wrong direction many years before the pandemic. The suicide rate of young people has increased for a decade, and suicides are the second leading cause of death among young people by 2018, reports abcnews.al
According to a report in 2013, mental health problems start in childhood.
Also disturbing is the fact that the symptoms of mental health problems appear at an increasingly young age. Since 2016, the number of children aged 6 to 12 receiving treatment in children’s hospitals due to suicide attempts has doubled.
The Children’s Hospital Association documented 5,485 emergency or hospital visits for suicide attempts at nearly 50 children’s hospitals in 2019, from 2,555 in 2016. May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but this issue requires more than being aware .
Requires action. Children’s hospitals should be the last line of defense in the mental health fight that young people face. As with physical illness, hospitalization is the least preferred, most expensive option, and in cases of mental health problems the diagnosis is made too late.
A good start would be to invest more resources in mental health care. Policymakers need to secure more funding for programs that will help educate and train more licensed mental health professionals, reports abcnews.al
Furthermore, there should be greater support for state and local programs to address health and mental health problems, school-based services, and outpatient programs.
Finally, we need to help pediatric hospitals expand capacity to help children get the right treatment. According to data, the United States needs approximately 12,600 child and adolescent psychiatrists to meet current requirements. The country has only 8,300 psychiatrists.
As the world strives to return to normalcy, we must keep in mind that the impact of the pandemic on children will be noticed in the years to come. Out of necessity, hospitals became the front line in the battle against coronavirus. But they cannot bear the burden of fighting for the mental health of children.
Children deserve support from all of us. abcnews.al