The youth mental health crisis is past the tipping point. The number of mental health hospitalizations among children and young adults doubled between 2016 and 2022, with inpatient stays for anxiety-related issues and eating disorders tripling over the same period.
That’s according to an analysis of claims data for over 24M Americans under the age of 21 in the new The Kids Are Not Alright report from Clarify Health Institute, whose high quality research is matched only by its stellar report titles.
To frame up just how dire the youth mental health crisis has gotten (2016-2022):
- Clarify found a 124% overall increase in mental health inpatient (IP) hospital admissions
- A 250% increase in IP admissions for anxiety and fear-related disorders
- A 221% increase in IP admissions for feeding and eating disorders
- A 96% increase in IP admissions for depressive disorders
- A 45% increase in mental health ED visits, including a 74% increase for suicidal ideation, attempts, and other self-harm
Looking at the annual incidence rates between conditions (vs. the utilization stats above), Clarify found a steep climb in new diagnoses for 8 of the 9 leading disorders:
- Feeding and eating disorders had the highest rate of growth (44%), followed by anxiety and fear disorders (40%), and obsessive-compulsive disorders (38%).
- Only diagnoses for disruptive and conduct disorders decreased (16%) between 2016-2022, although some volatility in diagnosing was seen at the start of the pandemic (Ex. anxiety conditions saw a 14% decrease in 2020, followed by a 36% YoY increase).
Another interesting slice of the data highlighted the differences in mental health IP utilization by age and sex, showing a particularly tough increase for girls between the ages of 12 and 18.
- IP admissions for adolescent girls were twice as high as boys in the same age group across the entire time period (27 vs 11 per 1k), with Clarify pointing to ubiquitous social media as a primary contributor.
If the goal of Clarify’s report was to provide a clearer picture of youth mental health care utilization, it succeeded by highlighting just how bleak the current landscape looks. It’s well known that the pandemic didn’t do younger generations’ mental health any favors, but these statistics are a stark reminder that there’s an urgent need to heed the calls-to-action from groups like these pediatric mental health societies and the Surgeon General.