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Pediatric Mental Health

What You Need to Know About the Pediatric Mental Health Crisis

November 28, 2023

Mental health has been an important topic in recent years, but have you considered the role pediatric mental health plays in a child's life? There is a pediatric mental health crisis happening in our country and it is important to bring awareness to it.

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According to survey data, 79% of Americans believe that the country is experiencing a mental health crisis. However, what may sometimes be overlooked is the risks and impact of pediatric mental health challenges. Childhood and teenage years are critical when it comes to mental health, as our brains are growing and changing rapidly during this time. Therefore, children and teens are particularly vulnerable to events and experiences that can affect their mental health, such as exposure to violence, bullying and poverty.

Around 10% of children and adolescents worldwide experience mental health conditions, according to the World Health Organization. However, the majority of them do not seek help or receive care. Alarmingly, half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14. Although a pediatric mental health crisis may be a growing problem, there are many actions we can take to shape the mental health of our future, including increasing awareness, promoting access to care and educating people on mental healthcare strategies. Read on to learn more about the pediatric mental health crisis and what you may be able to do to help manage it.

The Current Situation

The pediatric mental health landscape has worsened considerably in recent years, with a notable uptick in cases following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data from 2022 showed that mental health cases among emergency department discharges were 20% higher than before the pandemic in 2019. In addition, between March 2020 and October 2020, mental health-related emergency department visits increased by 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17 compared to 2019. These statistics led the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children's Hospital Association to declare a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health in the fall of 2021. There is a wide range of mental health conditions affecting children and adolescents, some of which include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating disorders

By recognizing and treating these issues early, the negative effects on a child's development may be reduced. However, the current situation indicates a dire need for additional resources, interventions and support for the pediatric mental health community.

Effects of Mental Health Problems in Children

Mental health problems in children can greatly affect their physical health, academic performance and social interactions. Mental health challenges can lead to poor academic performance, as they can often interfere with their ability to succeed in school. Additionally, social interactions may be affected as children struggling with mental health may have difficulty connecting with their peers or expressing their emotions.

Mental health problems can grow and persist into adulthood, making it important to recognize mental health problems early on. Parents, educators and healthcare professionals often play a key role in ensuring children develop in a healthy way and are set up for success in their future endeavors.

What's the Solution?

Parents, teachers and caregivers can increase awareness of the early warning signs, such as changes in mood, behavior or appetite, and be prepared to intervene when necessary. One way to promote early intervention is by reducing stigma and promoting open conversations about mental health in families and communities.

Treatment options for pediatric mental health issues may include psychotherapy or medication. Psychotherapy can be an effective way to help children and adolescents learn coping skills, develop healthy relationships and improve their overall well-being. Various types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and family therapy, may be used depending on the child's specific needs and circumstances.

In some cases, medications may also be prescribed alongside therapy to help manage symptoms and improve daily functioning. However, medications should not be considered a standalone treatment but rather part of a comprehensive care plan that includes ongoing support and monitoring.

On a larger scale, investing in training for mental health workers and increasing access to care may help bridge gaps in mental health treatments. Timely support and treatment may be key to tackling the pediatric mental health crisis and improving outcomes for children and their families.

Resources for Pediatric Mental Health

There are several resources available to support the mental health of children and adolescents.

Mental Health America provides guidance on keeping children mentally healthy and stresses the importance of treating children's mental health with the same attention as their physical health. Other organizations like the Children’s Mental Health Network and the National Alliance on Mental Illness may also provide helpful resources to children and families struggling with mental health.

Some resources for pediatric mental health may include:

  • Educational materials for parents to better understand and support their child's mental health needs
  • Screening tools for early identification of mental health issues in children and adolescents
  • Training programs and workshops for educators to address mental health concerns in their day-to-day work
  • Access to mental health professionals and services for ongoing support
  • Evidence-based treatment options and strategies for addressing specific mental health conditions

Several resources are available for managing pediatric mental health concerns and promoting healthy development. With the right action, we can help promote improved mental health and well-being of children and adolescents in our communities.

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