The pandemic has put a strain on mental health. A new study released by the Department of Health and Human Services shows those needs have been rising in children well before COVID-19 made them worse.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on March 14, found that between 2016 and 2020, the number of children ages 3-17 diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29%, and the number of those diagnosed with depression rose by 27%.
In just the last year of its study, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found those diagnoses led to a 21% increase in children with behavior or conduct problems.
“It has been rising and it’s been rising pre-pandemic and I also see it exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Jennifer Leonardo, the Children’s Safety Network Director for the Education Development Center, a global nonprofit that works to improve education and health across the country.
Leonardo says one of the big things that has led to these increases is the lack of health care access so many communities, particularly rural ones, face nationwide.
“We need to train up more people,” said Leonardo. “We need to also have skills developed for people who are not clinicians, more resources available through schools, through community settings.”
“Kids are showing up at their doctor's appointments or at ER’s presenting with mental health issues that should be addressed or more routinely would be addressed if we had enough services available,” added Jessica Mayo, the CEO of Judi’s House, a Denver-based nonprofit that provides counseling to children and caretakers free of charge.
Since its inception in 2002, Judi’s House has offered free services to more than 12,000 people as it joins a list of organizations looking to expand mental health care access to children who normally would not be able to find it. It works through donations to pay its team of licensed mental health professionals, but other services are not keeping up.
According to the Brookings Institute, roughly half of the kids in the U.S. with a mental health disorder in 2019 did not receive treatment.
“Looking for places where we can come together around shared problems to be addressed and solved is its own beacon of hope during this time,” said Mayo.