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Leading pediatric groups declare 'national emergency' in children's mental health

Policymakers being called on to address the crisis
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Posted at 4:18 PM, Oct 22, 2021

Several leading pediatric health organizations - the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association - have declared a national emergency in children's mental health.

ABC Action News spoke with two mental health experts in the Tampa Bay area to get more perspective on how we got to this point and what this means for children.

Dr. Jennifer Katzenstein is the Co-Director of the Center for Behavioral Health at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. She said experts were concerned about the mental health of children before the pandemic and now the situation is much worse.

"As we continue through the pandemic, we continue to see the toll taken on our kids in terms of increased stress and anxiety, increased substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicide," said Dr. Katzenstein.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mental health emergency room visits went up by 24% for children ages 5 to 11 and 31% for children ages 12 to 17 between March and October 2020. Now, leading pediatric medical associations are calling on policymakers to increase federal funding for mental health services, among other measures to address this crisis.

Dr. Brandon Deliberato is Baycare's Medical Director for Child Psychiatry and he explained more funding could help expand telehealth coverage, access to care, trauma services, more in-home and wrap-around care, and substance use-related services. Both mental health experts said parents need to pay attention to their kids' habits.

"As a parent what you are looking for is ... how is your child functioning in school? How are they interacting with other adults and their peers? Are they eating? Are they sleeping? Do they seem like there is a decrease from their baseline overall?" said Dr. Deliberato.

"One of the great things you can do as a parent first thing is - tell me about your day. Let's not make it a question. Let's make it a response. Tell me how you're feeling," said Dr. Katzenstein.

They said now more than ever, leaders and the community need to bring mental health to the forefront as well as increase resources and access to care.

Watch the full interview with Dr. Katzenstein below:

Interview with Dr. Katzenstein on children's mental health

Click here for the report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.