COVID-19 impacting youth mental health


With more time spent at home with family
members, many young people are being
exposed to greater stress as their parents 
face employment loss and economic
pressures and more.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, young people are struggling with unprecedented disruption to their daily lives and routines due to home isolation, almost complete loss of structured activities, and school closures—raising concerns among health experts and pediatricians about their mental health.

With more time spent at home with family members, many young people are being exposed to greater stress as their parents face employment loss and economic pressures, uncertainty about the future, and even grief over the loss of family members to the virus.

For youth who were already struggling with their mental health before the pandemic, the impact of these major life changes and stressors is even more substantial.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—a time to shed light on the highly stigmatized and often taboo subject of suicide. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Arizona adolescents ages 10-19, making youth mental health an urgent priority.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added another significant and severe layer to the psychosocial distress that contributes to young patients’ need for mental health care,” says Adeola Adelayo, MD, an adolescent psychiatrist for Banner Behavioral Health. “Their social relationships are of the utmost importance to their emotional and psychological development, and not having that outlet has caused an initial surge in hospital admissions, as rising depression and anxiety are leading to suicidal thoughts.”

Because of a nationwide shortage of child psychiatrists and psychologists, many students access mental health services and supports primarily at school. With schools closing abruptly in the spring, these services were immediately cut off and since then, have waned as schools grapple with remote instruction and safe reopening plans. In fact, an Education Week Research Center Survey released in April showed that less than a quarter of school leaders were able to meet students’ mental health needs at the same level they were pre-pandemic. The situation is especially stark for urban schools, where only 5 percent of leaders said they were able to keep up with providing the same level of mental health supports.

Access to mental health care has been a challenge for many years, and COVID-19 has made it even tougher for youth to get the help they need. Research shows this is even more pronounced for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) populations, which have long experienced disparities in access to care and are more likely to be uninsured or experience stigma related to mental illness.

Early intervention brings hope

For all young people, the lifelong benefits of early intervention and treatment cannot be overstated. “Laying a strong foundation in a child’s emotional and psychological development through early interventions, rich and effective evidence-based prevention and treatment, and creating effective psychosocial support has been proven to make all the difference in the world for the long-term positive outcome of a person's lifespan,” says Dr. Adelayo. “The holistic treatment of a young person’s mental health prevents all types of ailments/disorders—be it physical, emotional, academic, occupational, and interpersonal.”

Because of a nationwide shortage
of child psychiatrists and psychologists,
many students access mental health 
services and supports primarily at school.

Dr. Adelayo says support for youth mental health, just like any severe medical condition, helps the child, the family, and the community at large. “It helps flatten another curve—that of the upward trend of youth suicide rates that we have been seeing over the years,” she says.

Telehealth in the age of COVID-19

Dr. Adelayo says the biggest challenge in 2020 has been trying to balance safety with care. For hospitalized young patients, she points out the importance of parental education, which is most impactful when parent and child are in the room together, allowing for richer communication. Hospital visitor restrictions have allowed only for telephone conversations between hospitalized youth, their care provider and parents.

For those receiving outpatient care, Dr. Adelayo says tele-behavioral health has proven most effective because the parent and child are together, in the same room, working with the therapist online. Additional resources will allow Banner to expand these services, reaching rural and underserved communities, and adapt and implement tele-behavioral health more fully in the inpatient setting as well.

Lighting the Way for Arizona youth

Between now and October 17, we invite you to make a tax-deductible charitable gift to help Banner expand access to behavioral health care and further implement telehealth and other innovative ways to care for youth in need. With no event-related expenses this year, 100% of your donation will support youth mental health.

With your support, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of Arizona youth who are struggling.