The mental health of children is currently in crisis. According to an investigation reported in 2021 in JAMA Pediatrics, one in four children globally is experiencing elevated depressive symptoms and one in five is experiencing elevated anxiety. In the United States in 2020, anxiety diagnoses for children aged 3 to 17 years increased 29% and depression diagnoses increased 27% compared with 2016, according to a 2022 investigation in JAMA Pediatrics. This equates to 5.6 million children with anxiety and 2.7 million with depression—numbers that are far too high.
Pediatric mental health was already a concern during the 2010s, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated an expanding crisis as children who were experiencing the mounting pressures of social media, increasing gun violence, and other stressors now had to cope with social isolation, disruption to education and other daily activities, and fear and uncertainty surrounding the novel virus.
ECRI highlighted the pediatric mental health crisis as its number one item in its Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for 2023.
Caring for this population’s mental health needs to begin long before these children present to emergency rooms for psychiatric treatment or suicide attempts. While some solutions to the current crisis may fall outside the pediatric primary care office, steps can be taken to protect our youngest and most vulnerable population.