By Jessica Dym Bartlett and Brandon Stratford, Child Trends, January 28, 2021
The social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of children and youth is a critical aspect of human development that lays the foundation for lifelong health and well-being. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as one in five children had a diagnosed mental health disorder. While research on the pandemic’s effects on mental health is still in the early stages, current evidence shows a surge in anxiety and depression among children and adolescents since the pandemic began, including among young people of color and among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning (LGBTQ) youth. In addition, almost half of all parents report experiencing higher levels of stress during COVID-19, which increases their children’s risk for experiencing family adversity (e.g., child abuse and neglect, domestic violence) and related mental health problems.
Given the extent to which the pandemic has exacerbated challenges that already existed, we cannot afford to wait any longer to build an effective system that promotes children’s mental health. This brief presents a national agenda for creating such a system, both during the pandemic and beyond. We review challenges in supporting children’s mental health during the pandemic, describe principles to guide the agenda’s implementation, and outline key strategies for addressing those challenges to create a more effective and equitable mental health system for children and youth—both during and after the pandemic.
This work builds on existing literature—especially the 2019 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report summarizing the science of promoting children’s healthy social, emotional, and behavioral development, as well as the empirical literature on the psychological impacts of natural disasters and pandemics.