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

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Children’s Mental Health During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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.

The following statistics highlight 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.

Mental illness has been rising since before the pandemic

Before the pandemic, up to 1 in 5 children had a diagnosed
mental health disorder

Common mental illnesses among young people are anxiety & depression


of all mental illnesses develop by age 24


Increase in depression for children
aged 12-17 between 2004 & 2019

Adolescent girls are over 2x as likely to have had an episode of major depression

Barriers and access challenges to mental health care

Black, Latino and Indigenous children are disadvantaged in mental health services in the areas of:


Quality Treatment


Outcome of Care

Hispanic children are almost 3x more likely than white children to experience delays in emergency room care for mental health visits

54% of LGBTQ youth who reported wanting mental health care in the prior year did not receive it

Impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health

The pandemic has created a perfect storm of stressors for children and youth and experts warn that it may negatively impact mental health


  • Uncertainty
  • Social isolation
  • School closures
  • Familial challenges & economic instability
  • Losing a family member to COVID-19

Barriers to Care

  • Lack of internet or technology limiting telehealth access
  • Fewer mental health screenings due to school closures & delayed pediatric care

Suicide is the 2nd
leading cause of death for youth

Strategies to prevent suicide:

  • School education programs
  • Crisis centers – call & text
  • Improve media portrayals
  • Restrict access to lethal means
  • Positive adult/child relationships

National data are unavailable on child & youth suicide during the pandemic
but there are concerns about an increase

A metropolitan-level study found that recent suicidal ideation was:

1.60x higher in March & 1.45x higher in July 2020

Local Evidence:
compared to those months in 2019

Strategies to support mental health during and after the pandemic

Targeted and intentional interventions and strategies can help support at-risk children and give them the resources to live healthy and productive lives

Coordinate Services

Coordinate mental health with other services that support children & families, including education & the legal system


Proper Funding

Create flexible & equitable funding streams for promotion, prevention, early intervention & screening and treatment services


Workforce Capacity

Establish a national, cross-disciplinary initiative to increase workforce capacity in children’s mental health


Structural Racism

Address discrimination & structural racism that impacts access to care & mental health outcomes


Social Determinants

Increase children’s well-being by reducing family poverty & addressing social determinants of health


Health Technology

Invest in innovative technology to increase access to mental health supports, including telehealth


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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

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