February 24, 2024

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Rising Adolescent Mental Health Crises in Year 2 of COVID-19: Urgent Policy Calls

Rising Adolescent Mental Health Crises in Year 2 of COVID-19: Urgent Policy Calls



Rising Adolescent Mental Health Crises in Year 2 of COVID-19: Urgent Policy Calls

In the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant surge in emergency hospital visits by young people in the United States seeking treatment for mental health crises.

A study published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association – Psychiatry” by researchers from Harvard Medical School’s Blavatnik Institute of Health Care Policy reveals this trend.

The research underscores the urgent need to enhance mental health resources and policies, particularly as teenage girls face a higher risk of severe mental health issues such as self-harm and attempted suicide.

Rising Adolescent Mental Health Crises in Year 2 of COVID-19: Urgent Policy Calls

Amid growing concerns about the mental health crisis among adolescents, these research findings provide crucial insights into the use of acute medical services by teenagers facing mental health issues like self-harm and suicide attempts.

The researchers emphasize that these findings highlight the pressing need for policy initiatives to increase mental health resources across various aspects of care, including emergency departments, pediatric mental health inpatient facilities, primary care, and prevention.

Dr. Haiden Huskamp, Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School’s Henry J. Kaiser School, states, “The bottom line is that as a society, we need to do more to protect the mental health and well-being of young people.”

Exacerbation of Existing Mental Health Issues Due to the Pandemic

Many reports indicate that the stress and isolation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have intensified the adolescent mental health crisis described by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Numerous studies suggest that this trend is not new, with a 57% increase in teenage suicide rates in the decade preceding the pandemic compared to the previous decade. The researchers note that the mental health care system has been under significant strain due to the rising incidence of adolescent mental illnesses and a long-standing shortage of healthcare providers.

The authors contend that the pandemic has contributed to addressing these worsening issues, causing severe damage to the mental health of an entire generation of young people and placing a heavy burden on an already struggling mental health care system.

Dr. Huskamp comments, “One of the most concerning findings is the sharp increase in the number of adolescents waiting several days in the emergency room before being transferred to facilities capable of providing the level of treatment they need.”

Alarming Trends in Adolescent Mental Health Services

For their analysis, researchers examined private health insurance claims submitted between March 2019 and February 2022, involving over four million individuals aged 5 to 17. They compared the number and outcomes of emergency visits related to mental health conditions during the first year of the pandemic (March 2019 to February 2020) with the second year of the pandemic (March 2021 to February 2022).

Young people in the study sample were 7% more likely to seek emergency care for mental health issues in the second year of the pandemic compared to the previous 12 months. In the second year of the pandemic, the likelihood of emergency visits by adolescent girls increased by 22% compared to the year before the virus’s outbreak.

The first author, Lindsay Overhage, a medical doctor/Ph.D. student at Harvard Medical School with a keen interest in mental health policy, emphasizes, “We must do everything we can to prevent these severe conditions and treat those who are suffering – it’s crucial.”

Overall, compared to the year before the pandemic, there was an 8% increase in the likelihood of children being treated for mental health issues in psychiatric inpatient settings after visiting the emergency room during the second year of the pandemic. The number of teenagers waiting at least two days in the emergency room before being transferred to psychiatric inpatient services increased by 76%.

Key Approaches to Addressing the Adolescent Mental Health Crisis

The researchers state that these findings underscore the urgent need to identify and alleviate underlying pressures leading to a sharp increase in severe mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, self-harm, and others among adolescents. They add that efforts must include research to help understand why girls are more severely affected than boys.

The study also highlights the importance of swiftly taking action to enhance the capacity for inpatient and outpatient child psychiatric treatment, providing the necessary care for adolescents in crisis, and relieving the pressure on acute mental health care systems. The researchers outline various approaches to addressing this issue, including increasing inpatient capacity, enhancing the availability of mental health service providers, preventing and alleviating professional burnout among mental health service providers, and providing support for non-specialist primary care and emergency clinicians delivering mental health care.

The researchers point out that there are promising therapeutic approaches for children currently in crisis, which can be provided in emergency departments, in person, or through telemedicine. These therapies can reduce the need for inpatient treatment or, at the very least, allow patients to begin effective treatment while waiting for inpatient care.

Rising Adolescent Mental Health Crises in Year 2 of COVID-19: Urgent Policy Calls

(source:internet, reference only)


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