Children in the U.S. are struggling with mental health, experiencing “unprecedented levels” of anxiety and depression, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book published in early August by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a primary factor in the mental health challenges, which has claimed the lives of millions worldwide, with estimates that 200,000 U.S. children have lost a parent or caregiver to the virus.

Since 2016, an additional 1.5 million children in the U.S. are struggling with mental health challenges. The percentage of children with anxiety or depression increased from 2016 to 2020 in 41 states, with South Dakota seeing the highest percentage increase (102.4%).

Also contributing to this increase are the ongoing challenges of limited economic resources, which result in reduced food intake, inadequate housing and other factors that negatively impact a person’s social and emotional well-being.

“Youth who grow up in poverty are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than their peers,” the report said. “Children need a solid foundation of nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods — and their families need financial stability — to foster positive mental health and wellness.”

AECF’s annual report assesses the well-being of U.S. children and youth by using a total of 16 negative indicators across four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

The pandemic caused delays in data collection from the sources used in the Data Book. So, the 2022 report relied on data from a range of years (2016-2020) in some cases, and in other cases, the report used data from 2018-2019, comparing these data sets to earlier data points.

Of the 16 indicators, U.S. children fared better in 10, worse in four and the same in two.

The death rate for children and teens was one notable area of concern, as it increased to 28 deaths per 100,000 population, the highest rate since 2008.

“The rise reflects a large increase in homicides and drug overdoses. In fact, for the first time ever, firearm-related fatalities are the leading cause of death for children and teens,” the report said.

While the overall trends are positive, AECF’s report emphasized that significant disparities remain when data is analyzed based on race and ethnicity.

For example, white children were under the national average for all 16 negative indicators used in the report. By comparison, American Indian and Latino children were both only under the national average for two indicators, while African American children were only under the national average for three indicators.

The full report is available here.

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