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Children and Mental Health

A recent opinion article in the New York Times lays bare the mental health situation in our country. The author is a child and adolescent psychiatrist experiencing unprecedented patient volume. One of his patients, who is 11 years old, has panic attacks whenever she wears a mask. Many others have expressed—or acted on—suicidal thoughts. Adolescents are suffering from overwhelming anxiety and depression. Even before the pandemic, mental health care was precarious. There was (and still is) a psychiatrist shortage, with the national average number of psychiatrists at less than 25% of the average recommended by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Many schools, especially, are shorthanded when it comes to mental health care. As a result, less than half of the children in this country receive adequate mental health treatment. The advent of the pandemic has only intensified these problems, with mental health clinics (both in person and online) saturated and overburdened.

            What will our future look like if this generation’s mental health is defined by the stress and trauma of the pandemic? The solution is simple: we must pour our resources into mental health institutions. As the author of the NYT article argues, the mental health care system should be substantially expanded, a process already begun by SAMHSA. Even so, the unending influx of public health advisories and pessimistic pandemic outlooks, whether political, economic, or medical, drown out the voices of mental health experts. There is still not enough attention towards mental health care, which was egregious even before the pandemic, when many were struggling with inadequate resources. As I have reiterated many times, the pandemic is a case study for what happens when our flawed healthcare system is put under stress, and a clarion call for the world to finally face mental health head on.

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