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The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Crisis: Addressing the Growing Concern

There is a growing concern in our field, and one that requires our immediate attention: a mental health crisis affecting children and adolescents. The American Psychological Association, for example, declared in January 2023 that “Kids’ mental health is in crisis.” And CBS News helped summarize the breadth and urgency, saying: 

More than 60% of children with depression don’t get any mental health treatment, according to Mental Health America. Pair that statistic with the fact that about 80% of the United States has a severe shortage of child psychiatrists, and the picture becomes clear: there is a growing mental health crisis in the United States and beyond. 

We cannot afford to ignore that the well-being of our youngest generation is under siege, as they grapple with a complex web of stressors and challenges. From the relentless pressure of academic expectations to the unceasing influence of social media, the family dynamics of an ever-changing society to the economic stressors that ripple through our lives—and of course the collective trauma of the COVID 19 pandemic—this crisis in childhood mental health deserves a closer look. 

Prevalence of Mental Health Issues in Children and Adolescents 

The prevalence of mental health issues among children and adolescents has reached alarming levels in recent years. While once dismissed as a phase of growing up, it is now clear that many young individuals are grappling with genuine and often debilitating mental health disorders. Understanding the scale of this issue is crucial for recognizing its significance and taking proactive steps towards addressing it. 

Statistics and Trends  

Here are a few statistics that can help us to contextualize the prevalence of mental health disorders in adolescents and children: 

  • “In the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness—as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors—increased by about 40% among young people.” (CDC) 
  • “From March 2020 to October 2020, mental health–related emergency department visits increased 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for those ages 12 to 17 compared with 2019 emergency department visits.” (CDC) 
  • 59.8% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment. (Mental Health America
  • “Nationally, only 28% of youth with severe depression receive some consistent treatment (7-25+ visits in a year).  Most (57.3%) youth with severe depression do not receive any care.” (Mental Health America
  • “Only 4,000 out of more than 100,000 U.S. clinical psychologists are child and adolescent clinicians, according to APA data.” 

In other words, mental health concerns are increasing, and help is hard to find. 

Common mental health disorders in this age group include  

The prevalence of these disorders varies, but they collectively affect millions of young lives. 

Why is childhood and adolescent mental health important? 

Childhood and adolescence are pivotal stages in human development, marked by rapid physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. Individuals transition from childhood to adulthood, navigating a maze of challenges and opportunities. Amidst this transformation, mental health holds immense importance for several compelling reasons: 

Foundation for Adult Mental Health 

Adolescence and childhood serve as a critical foundation for adult mental health. The emotional and psychological well-being established during these years significantly shapes one’s mental health in adulthood. Unresolved mental health issues in adolescence often persist, potentially leading to more severe problems in later life. 

Interpersonal Relationships 

Children and adolescents learn to form and deepen their relationships during this stage, both with peers and family. Strong mental health enables them to  

  • develop healthy social skills 
  • communicate effectively 
  • maintain positive relationships 

Conversely, untreated mental health issues can strain these connections, leading to isolation and loneliness. 

Academic and Career Success 

Adolescence, in particular, is when educational pursuits intensify, and career aspirations take root. Good mental health is essential for concentration, learning, and achieving academic goals. Adolescents with sound mental health are better equipped to make informed decisions about their future and strive towards their career objectives. 

Resilience and Coping Skills 

Adolescence and childhood are periods of learning to cope with life’s challenges. Developing resilience and effective coping mechanisms is crucial for handling stress, setbacks, and difficult life events. Adolescents with good mental health are more likely to build these essential life skills.  

Reducing Long-term Mental Health Disorders 

Many mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, often first appear during childhood and adolescence. Timely intervention and support can prevent these issues from escalating into more severe and chronic conditions in adulthood. 

Suicide Prevention 

Adolescence, and increasingly childhood, are vulnerable periods for suicidal ideation and attempts. Addressing mental health concerns in this age group is critical for suicide prevention, as early intervention and support can save lives. 

Understanding the prevalence and importance of mental health is only the first step in addressing the growing childhood mental health crisis. Early intervention is critical. When these issues are left unaddressed, they can have profound and long-lasting effects on a young person’s life, affecting their education, relationships, and overall well-being. 

the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.      

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.      

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.      

Belong. Heal. Grow.     

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