The crisis of pediatric mental health
While they may not receive a lot of attention as a patient safety concern, children’s mental health issues are reaching a critical point nationwide and need to be acknowledged as one, Schabacker said.
Since the emergence of COVID-19, pediatric mental health has been steadily declining, worsened by a lack of qualified personnel and access to specialized care, he said.
In 2020, there was nearly a 30% increase in children ages 3 to 17 experiencing anxiety and depression compared with 2016, according to a 2022 report by the Health and Human Services Department.
Separately, the weekly average of emergency department visits for suicide attempts among teenagers was 39% higher during the winter of 2021 than during the same period in 2019, a 2021 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
“Based on where we are in the pandemic, I’m not surprised to see pediatric mental health crisis at the top of the list,” said Stephanie Mercado, CEO of the National Association for Healthcare Quality. “Our kids went through a lot, even in the best of circumstances and the most well-supported environments.”
Clinical staff are not always prepared to support the volume of patients coming in with mental health issues, and the industry’s inability to scale its support for young people is also a population health issue, Mercado said.
As a start, healthcare facilities should implement universal screening for depression, anxiety, substance use and suicidal ideation for pediatric patients at every visit and form a team of leaders and frontline staff to evaluate their existing gaps in meeting behavioral health needs, Schabacker said.