In recent days, experts in pediatric health have officially asserted that child and adolescent mental health is a national emergency. In a declaration published Oct. 19, experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, cited “dramatic increases” nationwide in emergency department visits for children’s mental health.
Adolescence is a highly formative time of rapid physical and emotional change, and the typical challenges of adolescence and mental health have only been amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Read on for more data on youth mental health and the importance of talking about mental health with children.
Is adolescent mental illness on the rise?
Yes, youth mental illness is certainly on the rise. The CDC reported emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts in girls ages 12-17 increased 51% between February and March of 2021 compared to 2019.
The disruption and loss brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic challenged adolescent and children’s mental health, in addition to stress-related to racial justice struggles of 2020. This only compounded on the already-increasing trend of childhood mental health concerns and suicide between 2010 and 2020, according to AAP.
Data compiled by Mental Health America maintains that 15.08% of youth experienced a major depressive episode in the past year — a percent higher than the previous year. While 10.6% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, youth who identify as more than one race have higher rates at 14.5%.
Even in non-pandemic times, adolescence and mental health are closely linked — half of all mental health conditions start by age 14. Certain risk factors can harm youths’ mental health, like quality of home life, a history of abuse or socioeconomic problems, sexual identity, and even social media. These disturbing trends point to a need for greater awareness and resources surrounding adolescent mental health.
Why it’s important to talk about children’s mental health
Talking about children’s mental health is a potentially life-saving action that parents, teachers, and other adults can take. Being aware of the crisis affecting children and discussing mental health openly can help remove the stigma of struggling and seeking help.
Given that mental health disorders and suicide attempts are on the rise and more kids are suffering — talking about it can encourage more people to get the treatment they need. Here are a few ways to talk to adolescents and children about mental health:
- Talk about your own mental health. Share your feelings and challenges to model this kind of safe communication.
- Ask questions about the child’s mental health and emotions. Make this a part of your daily routine.
- Emphasize the importance of expressing both positive and negative emotions. Let them know that being sad or angry isn’t a bad thing; it’s natural to experience these feelings from time to time.
- Be aware of and monitor warning signs. Mental illness warning signs may include persistent sadness, weight loss, change in appetite or eating habits, personality shifts, and many others.
Emergency room visits for youth mental health emergencies
When an adolescent or child is having a mental health emergency, the ER is often the first step. The ER is the place to go for immediate issues like self-harm, homicidal thoughts, suicidal ideation, and other mental health crises that may be life-threatening. However, it is not the ideal environment for a long-term stay nor was it designed to cater to mental health needs, either.
A shortage of beds in dedicated mental health facilities is creating lengthy emergency room stays, which can lead to further declines in mental health. For example, one 13-year-old in Massachusetts spent 17 days in the emergency room waiting to be admitted to a pediatric psychiatry in-patient hospital. During her time in the ER, her health declined due to the constant busyness, activity, and overstimulation. Nearly two weeks in, her mother said she had self-harmed three times during her stay.
Ensuring patient safety during mental health crises
Patients in mental health emergencies need safe environments to ensure their wellbeing, especially children. A key aspect of patient safety is regular, ongoing safety checks. This level of observation can be life-saving.
ObservSMART is a proximity-based patient monitoring tool that was created to help patients — adults and adolescents alike — stay safe and accounted for during times of distress. The noninvasive Bluetooth-enabled wristbands ensure patients are properly monitored, which is critical for the safety of adolescent mental health patients.
To learn more about this technology, contact us for a demo.