Solutions & Challenges for Children's Mental Health in the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Published on: May 20, 2021.

75% 0f all mental illnesses

develop by age 24

The pandemic created the perfect storm of stressors for children and their families. Experts are calling for renewed attention to how this past year may impact children’s short-and-long-term mental health and well-being. The trends in children’s mental health were sobering leading up to the pandemic, with 1 in 5 children experiencing a mental illness and rates of major depression rising dramatically. Now, there is a growing concern that the pandemic has led to increased mental health challenges and suicide risk among children.

This infographic highlights the challenges — including barriers in accessing culturally appropriate care and mental health resources — and the opportunities to improve the mental health system and support children’s mental health going forward.

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75% of mental illness develops by 24: “Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2005

1 in 5 children: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Is Children’s Mental Health?

Anxiety Prevalence: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). Any Anxiety Disorder.

Rates of Major Depression: SAMHSA, 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Table 11.2B – Major Depressive Episode in Past Year among Persons Aged 12 to 17, by Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2004 -2019

Research on access disparities & areas of disadvantage: Alegria, M., Vallas, M., & Pumariega, A. J. (2010). Racial and ethnic disparities in pediatric mental health. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 19(4), 759–774.

Study on access challenges for Hispanic children: Katherine A. Nash, Bonnie T. Zima, Craig Rothenberg, Jennifer Hoffmann, Claudia Moreno, Marjorie S. Rosenthal and Arjun Venkatesh. “Prolonged Emergency Department Length of Stay for US Pediatric Mental Health Visits (2005–2015),” Pediatrics, May 2021

Study on LGBTQ youth: The Trevor Project, Breaking Barriers to Quality Mental Health Care for LGBTQ Youth

Stressors: Psychiatric Times, New Findings About Children’s Mental Health During COVID-19

Barriers: Interim Guidance on Supporting the Emotional and Behavioral Health Needs of Children, Adolescents, and Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Study on ED visits during the pandemic: Leeb RT, Bitsko RH, Radhakrishnan L, Martinez P, Njai R, Holland KM. Mental Health–Related Emergency Department Visits Among Children Aged <18 Years During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, January 1–October 17, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:1675–1680.

Mental illness as a risk factor for suicide: According to the CDC, research has found that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) provides a list of other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:

  • A family history of suicide

  • Substance abuse - drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts

  • Intoxication - more than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death

  • Access to firearms

  • A serious or chronic medical illness

  • Gender - although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide

  • A history of trauma or abuse

  • Prolonged stress

  • A recent tragedy or loss

Suicide Death Rate by Age Group: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, Death Rates Due to Suicide and Homicide Among Persons Aged 10–19: United States, 2000–2017

Suicide as 2nd leading cause of death: CDC, Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, United States - 2016

Local suicide study: Ryan M. Hill, Katrina Rufino, Sherin Kurian, Johanna Saxena, Kirti Saxena and Laurel Williams. “Suicide Ideation and Attempts in a Pediatric Emergency Department Before and During COVID-19,” Pediatrics, March 2021

Strategies to support mental health during the pandemic: Child Trends, A National Agenda for Children’s Mental Health

Strategies to prevent suicide:

Additional Resources
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Resources for Parents & Caregivers:

Well Being Trust, Education System

Hoagwood KE, Kelleher KJ. A Marshall Plan for Children’s Mental Health After COVID-19. Psychiatric Services. 2020


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