By Sean Zucker –
The United States might be on the cusp of a mental health crisis. 90% of American adults believe the country is already facing one, according to a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in partnership with CNN. What now may be worse is that another breaking study suggests the mental health crisis confronting America reaches into some of its youngest and most vulnerable populations.
Originally published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this second study found that suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents spiked over 50 percent from 2016 to 2021. Specifically, visits to the emergency room due to suicidal thoughts increased by 59 percent, while hospitalization rose by 57 percent. In these cases, a suicidal ideation diagnosis climbed from 35 percent in 2016 to 44 percent in 2021.
205 hospitals across Illinois compiled the findings. The researchers examined the number of children ages five to 19 who entered emergency departments seeking help for suicide between January 2016 and June 2021. It amounted to 81,051 emergency department visits by children and adolescents for suicidal ideation. A quarter of those visits developed into hospital stays. The study may have relied on data from Chicago-area hospitals, and many experts believe the results reflect a nationwide problem.
“Young people are more educated; less likely to get pregnant, use drugs; less likely to die of accident or injury,” Dr. Candice Odgers, a psychologist from the University of California Irvine, explained to The New York Times. “By many markers, kids are doing fantastic and thriving. But there are these important trends in anxiety, depression and suicide that stop us in our tracks.”
Unfortunately, it’s not clear what’s causing this underage mental health calamity. Odgers identified one of the risk factors of suicide as the impact of insufficient resources, including severe therapist shortages and lacking treatment options for young people struggling in this space. Others have suggested social media as a culprit, while the study points to pandemic-induced isolation. Ultimately, however, there is a consensus that more research is needed to pinpoint the cause.
“We need to figure it out,” Odgers warned. “Because it’s life or death for these kids.”
Complicating matters further is the lack of proper response from those struggling with child and teenage suicide cases and the medical community at large. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly one in five children have a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, disruptive behavior disorder or Tourette syndrome. Sadly, only about 20 percent of children with mental health issues receive care from a specialized mental health care professional. CDC notes that young people dealing with these disorders greatly benefit from early diagnosis and treatment.
The CDC is working toward improving the situation by focusing on four key areas. These include building strategies to connect families to mental health care. The CDC is also investigating how funding policies affect mental health care. It claims to understand the gaps in the workforce serving children and social determinants that make it difficult for families to gain access to mental health care are equally crucial to at least stemming the rise of mental health issues among the young.