Mental health needs to become – and remain – a priority

While most people are still focused on the death toll and physical health issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic, fewer are thinking about the mental health issues that are taking a toll on all of us due to lockdown.

Mental health issues are a burden for everyone — including our children.

According to a report in Stateline, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says emergency room visits for suicide attempts in teens jumped 31% in 2020 compared to 2019. In February and March 2021, ER visits for suicide attempts were 51% higher in girls 12-17 compared to 2019.

Indeed, teachers across the country have reported crying and disruptive behavior in young children and more bullying in adolescents. And in October, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association declared the decline of mental health in children and adolescents since the pandemic started a national emergency.

“Nearly every child in the country is suffering to some degree from the psychological effects of the pandemic,” said Sharon Hoover, co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health. She noted that while the pandemic may end, the mental health effects will continue.

Damage has been done to all of us. We must do what we can now to mitigate the long-term effects by investing in mental health resources. Officials must find a way to make mental health resources more accessible to everyone. While we have made some gains in this department, there is more to be done.

Destigmatization of mental health challenges — and a reminder that mental health care is health care, every bit as important as physical, dental, vision — are essential.

Lawmakers — federal, state and local — must shift some focus to this aspect of the pandemic. There is no vaccine for it, and if we ignore it, it will not go away.


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