PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A coalition of pediatricians and psychiatrists in Rhode Island have declared a state of emergency for child and adolescent mental health.
The Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (RIAAP) and the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (RICCAP) issued the advisory, alongside Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Bradley Hospital.
Health professionals said they have witnessed a significant increase in mental health challenges among children, adolescents and their families throughout the course of the pandemic.
“This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020,” the declaration reads.
The rate of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020, according to health professionals, and by 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24.
According to the 2019 Rhode Island Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 15% of Rhode Island high school students reported attempting suicide one or more times in the 12 months before the survey was administered.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were already experiencing troubling trends including increased youth suicides. The pandemic has pushed this situation into a full-blown emergency, with dramatic increases in emergency room visits for all child mental health crises,” President of Bradley Hospital Henry Sachs said.
Doctors claim they’re now caring for youths with skyrocketing rates of depression, anxiety, trauma and suicide that will have lasting impacts on them, their families and their communities.
“In my 21 years as a pediatrician, I have never seen so many children experiencing mental health challenges or lack access to community resources to meet their mental health treatment needs,” RIAAP President Allison Brindle said. “The disruptions to usual routines and general stress that COVID has caused — on top of the usual stressors that kids and teens face — has taken a toll on children and families.”
Health professionals are now calling upon lawmakers, advocates and community stakeholders to join them in pushing for increased state funding for mental health screening, diagnosis and treatment options for children and young adults.
They’re also calling for an increase in community-based programs designed to connect youths and their families with behavioral health services and sustainable funding for school-based mental health care.
Health professionals are also calling upon the state to address the challenges currently facing the acute care needs of children and adolescents, including the shortage of beds and emergency room boarding. To fix this, they suggest the state expand access to short-stay stabilization units and community-based response teams.
In response to the declaration, a spokesperson for Gov. Dan McKee said he has submitted a budget to the R.I. General Assembly that increases access to outpatient mental health services for vulnerable youth and supports a health crisis hotline, among other services.
12 News is also working on a story related to teens’ mental health and how parents can help their kids’ mental well-being. Watch “Your Child’s Mental Health” Thursday at 5 p.m.