As children head back to school, there is a renewed focus on children’s mental health crisis. Over the past decade, pediatric mental health emergencies have increased more than 20-fold, according to Rady Children’s Hospital. Dr. Ben Maxwell, the interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, believes that today’s students feel overwhelmed by the weight of the world due to their increased connectivity. He emphasizes the importance of helping kids manage stressors and the constant flow of information they receive through their phones and screens.
To address this growing issue, Congressman Scott Peters introduced the Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention Act (STANDUP Act). Inspired by students at Bernardo Heights Middle School, the act aims to prioritize funding for awareness and prevention of school gun violence and suicide. Middle school students are considered the target audience for these policies, as their input is crucial in understanding the challenges they face, such as bullying, suicide, and school shootings.
During a roundtable discussion, students shared their experiences and concerns with Peters and Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm. One student expressed how active shooter drills made them contemplate situations they hadn’t thought about before, such as how to protect themselves and their loved ones. Another student highlighted how desensitized some students have become to gun violence at schools, to the point where they joke about it. Hearing these stories was sobering for Palm, who acknowledged the complexity and challenges that today’s youth face compared to previous generations.
Rady Children’s Hospital began seeing an increase in pediatric psychiatric emergencies around 2012. Over the years, the number of patients in psychiatric crisis has risen significantly, with over 4,700 cases in the past fiscal year, compared to 150-300 cases a decade ago. This alarming trend highlights the urgent need to address the mental health crisis among youth.
During this year’s roundtable, media literacy was identified as a crucial need in a politically divisive time where facts seem to lose their significance. Students also emphasized the importance of continued funding for mental health programs in schools and support for parents. Sam Boyce, who was present at the 2019 roundtable, expressed his gratitude for seeing legislation put in place that addresses their concerns.
According to Dr. Maxwell, there are no signs of the pediatric psychiatric crisis slowing down. It is clear that immediate and sustained action is necessary to support the mental health of children and adolescents.