Pandemic led to a new mental health crisis among children, Tacoma-Pierce County report reveals

TACOMA, Wash. — Parents and medical professionals have been warning about the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health for years.

Now, we are in the middle of a new mental health crisis. A new report by the Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health shows emergency department visits for anxiety and depression, youth crisis calls and eating disorders have increased between January 2020 and December 2021.

“Everyone is suffering post-pandemic, but the kids do not seem to be bouncing back the same way that the adults are,” said Dr. Lelach Rave, a primary care pediatrician. “We have a crazy mental health crisis happening.”

Pediatrician Dr. Rave has always seen children with mental and behavioral health concerns. Still, he says, “over the last couple of years, it is easily half of the day, every day if not more, which is not the way it was when I started fifteen years ago,” she added.

For Spanaway mom Jessica Doyle, the health department’s study puts data behind her lived experience.

According to Doyle, the pandemic has worsened existing mental health issues in children. She had to send her child to an in-patient psychiatric facility, and in her opinion, her child’s pre-existing mental health issues were only exacerbated when COVID hit.

“To hear my child say they’re in a dark place – they don’t feel like they’re where they need to be,” she said. “You feel like you’re fighting for everything in your kids’ life, and I don’t see a good future if we can’t get this together and figure out how to help our children.”

A mental health expert, Dr. Gregory Jantz, said, “We’re in a mental health pandemic. We’ve never seen the level of anxiety and depression and thirdly addiction happening with our youth.”