The Pandemic’s Impact on Children’s Mental Health

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the nation’s mental health, and a new issue brief shows that children are also facing worsening emotional and cognitive health. The brief examines factors contributing to worsening mental health and substance use outcomes among children and adolescents during the pandemic, looking closely at those who are at higher risk for negative mental health impacts, such as LGBTQ youth and children of color. A review of recent research finds:

  • More than 25% of high school students reported worsening emotional and cognitive health and over 20% of parents with children ages 5-12 reported similar worsening conditions for their children.
  • There has been a large decline in pediatric mental health care usage since the start of the pandemic. While access to mental health services via telehealth has increased, mental health services via schools likely decreased with closures. Among Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) beneficiaries under the age of 18, the number of children receiving mental health services dropped by 50% from February to October 2020.
  • In addition to loneliness and isolation in light of public health safety measures, the poor mental health of parents could be a contributing factor in negative mental health outcomes for children.

The brief also notes several provisions of the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act that support pediatric mental health care services and other programs, as well as relevant provisions in other proposed legislation.

KFF also has state-specific data on mental health and substance use on more than 20 indicators, with mental health state fact sheets available profiling each state.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.