During the Covid-19 epidemic, visits to emergency rooms for mental health issues among children and teenagers increased dramatically. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on Thursday that shows some signs of improvement. However, poor mental health is still a "substantial problem" for public health, especially for teenage girls.
Researchers at the CDC tracked the average number of emergency department visits per week among adolescents aged 12-17 for nine mental health conditions. They also looked at suicide attempts, other suicide-related behavior and drug overdoses.
By the fall 2022, the average number of emergency department visits due to mental health conditions, including suicide and drug overdoses, will be at least 10% less than it was in the fall 2021.
The number of emergency department visits by teenage girls for mental health and behavioral issues has declined, but the numbers are still higher than baseline levels before the pandemic.
The rates of mental health conditions among girls were significantly higher than those for boys. In 2022, more than 4,000 teen girls visited for mental health issues, compared to about 2,400 teen boys. The number of suspected suicide attempts was nearly four times greater among teenage girls than teenagers.
If you or someone close to you is suffering from suicidal feelings or mental health issues, there is help available.
Contact information for crisis centres around the globe is available from the International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide.
The number of emergency department visits due to drug overdoses was also higher compared to the baseline level from 2019. The CDC reported that opioid overdoses increased by 27% from fall 2021 to fall 2022. Teen boys were more affected than other age groups.
Experts in the field of mental health have been warning about youth mental illness for many years. In February, the CDC published a survey that revealed teen girls had experienced record levels of violence and sadness in recent years.
At the time, Dr. Debra Hhoury, CDC’s chief medical officer, deputy director of program and science and deputy director, stated that 'America’s teen girls have been swept up in a rising wave of sadness violence and trauma'. She said that many mental health issues are preventable.
Researchers from the CDC said that returning to school or other settings more like those of pre-pandemic times may have made adolescents feel less alone and more engaged.
The mental health of teenagers must be supported, and this includes 'evidence based, comprehensive prevention' efforts such as the 988 crisis line for suicide and access to telehealth, as well 'early identification of conditions and trauma informed interventions'.