Children's Hospital Colorado

One Year Later: Mental Health Crisis Worsens

Children's Hospital Colorado | May 04, 2022

Since Children's Hospital Colorado declared a youth mental health state of emergency one year ago, the pediatric health system has continued to see record numbers of kids and youth in mental health crises. Based on recent data, there has been a 23% increase in patients visiting the hospital's emergency departments for behavioral health concerns when compared to the first quarter of 2021 and a 103% increase above the first quarter of 2019, before the pandemic began.

A stressful time of year

"This time of year is historically stressful for kids and families and we typically see a spike in the number of children and youth seeking mental health treatment," said Ron-Li Liaw, MD, Mental Health-in-Chief for Children's Colorado. "But with numbers from the first quarter of the year higher than we have ever seen before, we feel compelled to reach out to the community for help in combating the crisis, and to provide resources for families as they wait for solutions to take effect."

Children's Colorado's numbers coincide with national study

These numbers coincide with a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that found that 44% of American teens report that they feel "persistently sad or hopeless" – up from 37% before the pandemic. The CDC study further states that one in five say they have contemplated suicide.

How parents, families and the community can take action

Parents, families and community members can all play a role in urging lawmakers to take action to improve system accountability and coordination as well as access to mental health services. In 2021, Colorado lawmakers responded to the call for action and, upon passage of a slate of bills this month, the state is expected to allocate over $150 million of one-time federal American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funding to address the mental health needs of children and youth across the care continuum from prevention to treatment. This year Colorado state lawmakers are also poised to formalize the new Behavioral Health Administration to better align all state-funded mental health and substance use programs.

Continued investment needed to recover

"Children's Colorado applauds Colorado lawmakers and Governor Polis for taking aggressive steps to invest in youth mental health. Colorado has consistently underfunded youth mental health services resulting in the complete elimination of critical resources at every level of care," said Heidi Baskfield, Vice President of Population Health and Advocacy at Children's Colorado. "It will take continued prioritization, time and consistent investment at these levels for years to come to recover from the sustained losses that the youth mental health system has experienced."

Advocacy opportunities

Children's Colorado encourages every Coloradan to advocate on behalf of children, not only because it's an investment in our state's future, but because it's the right thing to do. It is time to speak up clearly and powerfully for kids' mental health needs in public policy.

Here's how to get involved:

  • Become a part of the Child Health Champs advocacy network by writing emails, making phone calls, sharing social media posts and speaking up for kids' health. It takes much less time than you'd expect, and every voice matters!
  • Reach out now to your representative and senators to urge passage of the Strengthen Kids' Mental Health Now Act (H.R. 7236), which includes reforms and investments that will bolster the pediatric mental health workforce and ensure the availability of a full continuum of care for kids.
  • Make a gift in support of pediatric mental health or learn more about how you can invest in Children’s Colorado as we address the mental health crisis.

Resources for parents

"End-of-the-school-year stressors from standardized testing to prom to graduation and anxiety about summer and upcoming fall transitions: all lead to increased mental health concerns," shared Dr. Liaw. "Children's Hospital Colorado hopes to provide resources and opportunities for action to ensure our kids receive the support and care they deserve."

Parents, grandparents and other caregivers are "first responders" in this pediatric mental health crisis, often in partnership with teachers, school administrators and primary care providers. The severe shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists and behavioral health specialists has led to access-to-care gaps for children and youth not just at Children's Colorado, but throughout the state as well as the entire country.

Children's Colorado wants to offer parents and families a number of resources to access if and when the need arises and while they wait for care. Currently, just 22% of youth who have a mental health condition with severe impairment are receiving care.

Parenting resources from Children's Colorado

Community resources

Editor's note: This page was edited to reflect updated numbers as of May 6, 2022 and new resources.