While we are still learning about the pandemic’s impact on mental health, we’ve seen its effect on children and families intensifying over time. Many pediatricians have told me in the last month that their offices seem more like mental health clinics for both children and their parents. And while the pain is widespread, it hasn’t been equal. Some children have been impacted far more by the duration of the pandemic, isolation from friends and family, effects of parental stress and economic hardship, and loss of loved ones. I have personally seen straight-A students who were optimistic, well-adjusted, happy teens experience overwhelming depression and anxiety during the pandemic. In addition, we’re increasingly recognizing the impacts of personal and systemic racism on the mental health of children — particularly children of color.
What we know about the developing brain suggests that for many children, the traumatic effects of the past year may have long lasting ramifications. The good news is there are ways to buffer this impact, including prioritizing timely access to mental health treatment, safe housing, nutritious food and healthy relationships with caring adults. And any approach we take must include attention to parents and caregivers, because we know that children do better when their parents are physically and mentally healthy.
We must be willing to take big, bold steps for the sake of our children, who have quietly and bravely borne an often unseen burden over the past year. Now is the time for policymakers to step up — to invest in a broad-scale, comprehensive approach to mental health that addresses prevention and early treatment as well as crisis response.
AAP and CHA are calling on Congress and the Biden administration to prioritize children’s mental, emotional and behavioral health in proposals addressing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic — to take a broad-scale, comprehensive approach to mental health, addressing prevention and early treatment as well as crisis response.
This would also include more funds to programs that integrate mental health services into doctor’s offices and growing the pediatric mental health workforce.
Such a holistic approach must account for the varying needs of infants, young children, adolescents, young adults and their families. The brain is just as vital a part of children’s health as the rest of the body. We need to act so that when we emerge on the other side of this pandemic, all of our children will be healthy and thriving.