There are growing concerns about the mental health of children in this country. Health care providers says more and more kids are in crisis—and they’re calling on parents to take action.

With more and more kids struggling with mental health issues, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw calls it a 5-alarm fire in pediatrics.

“It has not gotten better since COVID has eased,” she says. “In fact, it’s gotten worse. In addition, the resources—which were already slim before the pandemic for psychology, psychiatry, and therapists in general—those resources are even slimmer now.”

Rising rates of depression

Numerous studies over the past five years show rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behavior in kids and teens.

A recent study by Nemours KidsHealth found that 86% of school-aged kids report worrying at least some of the time—and 53% of the kids surveyed don’t think adults understand their concerns.

“If you are a parent, it’s so important to talk with your children about things they can do when they are feeling sad. Be available to them. If you and your child are having a hard time communicating, help them identify a trusted adult who they can go to and talk with when they are having a hard time.”

Benefits of being proactive

It’s estimated that 50% of lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. That’s why providers say it’s so important to be proactive.

With a shortage of mental health services, Dr. Bradshaw encourages parents to spend time with their children and ask what’s on their minds. The actions you can take include:

  • Listen with patience and don’t downplay their worries.
  • Help your child identify solutions and support their ideas.
  • Watch for serious signs of mental distress and, if needed, get help right away.

Suicide prevention

In May 2023, U.S. News & World Report cited a study that found suicide is now the leading cause of death for 13- and 14-year-olds in the United States. The suicide rate nearly doubled in that age group between 2008 and 2018, rising from 2 deaths to 5 deaths per 100,000 teens.

The pre-pandemic study—published online recently in the Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health—comes amid growing concerns about the mental well-being of kids in the U.S. For years, studies have been charting rising rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.

What can you do?

“If your child is unsafe in your home; if you see that they are suicidal actively in that moment, call 988,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “It is the new hotline for suicide prevention. Also, another resource is local emergency departments. It’s not an ideal place, but it’s a place where unfortunately we’ve become quite used to triaging and dealing with kids who are not able to be physically and emotionally safe in their home.”

Being involved and showing interest in your children’s lives can help lower the risk of a mental health crisis.

“It’s so important to dial in to your kids and notice what’s going on with them,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “If you have any worries, talk to your teen, and if you still have worries, talk to your pediatrician.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health matters, please call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or visit the hotline’s website.