Children’s mental health is the biggest concern among their parents, post-pandemic, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
The study was conducted between Sept. 20, 2022, and Oct. 2, 2022, among a nationally representative sample of 3,757 U.S. parents with children younger than 18, using the Center’s American Trends Panel.
It found that 4 in 10 U.S. parents are extremely or very worried about their children struggling with anxiety and depression at some point, followed by 35 percent who are similarly concerned about their children being bullied.
“These items trump parents’ concerns about certain physical threats to their children, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy, and getting in trouble with the police,” the study reads.
According to the center, 28 percent of parents are concerned about their children being kidnapped or abducted, 25 percent fret over their children being attacked or beaten, and 22 percent of parents are concerned about their children getting shot.
Just 14 percent are worried about their kids getting in trouble with the police, the study found.
The study follows reports of a growing mental health crisis among children, exacerbated further by the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought a swift move to remote learning and “virtual connections” formed among school students.
Suicide Rates Rise
In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association jointly declared a national state of emergency in children’s mental health, noting that the pandemic has further exacerbated a previously existing situation.
According to the coalition, which together represents more than 77,000 physicians and 200 children’s hospitals, rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020, and by 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24.
Separate data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that suicide rates increased by 30 percent between 2000–18 but declined in 2019 and 2020.
However, it was still among the leading causes of death in the United States, with 45,979 deaths in 2020. It was the second leading cause of death for people aged 10 to 14 and 25 to 34 in that same year, according to the CDC.
Meanwhile, mental health-related visits to emergency departments (ED) among children between March 2020 and October 2020 soared, according to a separate CDC study.
That study found that mental health-related ED visits for children aged 5 to 11 increased by 24 percent in mid-March 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 and continued into October 2020. During that same time period, mental health-related ED visits among those aged 12 to 17 also increased by 31 percent, according to the study.
Rise in Social Media May Have Role
However, Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN that doctors were already seeing a rise in the number of children dealing with anxiety and depression prior to the pandemic.
“I would say over the last 10 years, since I’ve been practicing as a general pediatrician, I have seen a shift both in the amount of patients and of all ages dealing with anxiety and depression. And their parents being concerned about this is a key issue,” Williamson said. “Even before the pandemic, we were seeing skyrocketing numbers of kids and adolescents dealing with mental health issues, and that has increased exponentially since the pandemic.”
However, Duncan Young, CEO of Effective School Solutions, believes the decline in mental health among children may also be linked to the rise in technology and social media.
Multiple studies have found evidence suggesting a growing link between increased social media use and reports of depression symptoms.
Young told The Hill that the mental crisis among children “has actually been probably 15 years in the making” but appears to have grown with increased use of smartphones and social media websites among kids.