Is the Pandemic Harming Kids’ Mental Health?
By Alan Mozes HealthDay Reporter
FRIDAY, Nov. 13, 2020 (HealthDay) — Since last April, hospital emergency rooms across the United States have seen a sustained surge in visits related to the mental health of school-aged kids, a new report reveals.
The findings suggest the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a toll on children because of disruptions to their everyday life, anxiety about illness and social isolation. That conclusion comes from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of data on hospitals in 47 states. Those hospitals account for nearly three-quarters of emergency department visits nationwide.
The study tracked emergency visits involving children under age 18 who sought care for a mental health issue between Jan. 1 and Oct. 17, 2020.
“Our study looked at a composite group of mental health concerns that included conditions that are likely to increase during and after a public health emergency, such as stress, anxiety, acute post-traumatic stress disorder and panic,” said lead author Rebecca Leeb, a health scientist at the CDC in Atlanta who is part of its COVID-19 Response Team.
“We found that from March through October, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits increased 24% for children aged 5 to 11, and 31% among teenagers aged 12 to 17 years, compared to 2019,” Leeb said.
Pediatric mental health visits actually dropped off dramatically from mid-March to mid-April, when stay-at-home orders were in effect in much of the country. Since then, however, such visits have steadily increased, according to the report.
But Leeb said interpreting the numbers is not straightforward.
On the one hand, she said even the large jumps seen in the report likely underestimate the total number of pediatric mental health emergencies. “Many mental health care encounters occur outside of emergency departments,” Leeb explained.
But additional research indicates emergency department visits as a whole dropped significantly between January and October. And that, Leeb said, might mean that “the relative proportion of emergency department visits for children’s mental health-related concerns may be inflated.”
Regardless, Leeb said the findings show that many kids’ mental health was sufficiently concerning to prompt ER visits at a time when the public was being discouraged from using emergency departments for anything but the most critical care.