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Multiple organizations declare behavioral health state of emergency for kids

December 3, 2021 / in Children, Our people, News & events / by UK HealthCare

The emergency rooms at Kentucky Children’s Hospital and UK Good Samaritan Hospital have experienced a rising number of children and adolescents with mental health concerns over the past several months. Inpatient psychiatric units across the state have also experienced increases, with some children and adolescents waiting days or weeks for appropriate treatment from inpatient pediatric medical units and ERs. Three national specialty organizations –  the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association – have declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health. 

Even before the pandemic, youth suicide rates in Kentucky were on the rise, with increases noted nationally as well as locally. In 2019, nearly 1 in 5 Kentucky middle and high school students reported some degree of suicidal ideation. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults ages 10 to 24 in the United States. 

The pandemic has exacerbated child mental health concerns, with over 100,000 children in the Unites States having lost a caregiver to COVID-19. Children have experienced increased isolation, lower financial and family stability, and increased food insecurity, which has had a cascading effect on mental health and wellness.  

At the University of Kentucky, we continue to strengthen partnerships between our various departments and with community organizations to address the increasing acuity of behavioral health needs. We have increased our own inpatient behavioral health capacity by 50 percent  in response to the state of emergency, and we are planning to open a larger Behavioral Health Unit in 2022 co-located at Kentucky Children’s Hospital with expanded ability to care for young children. Looking toward the future, we can all advocate for development of systems of care with a focus on access to high-quality mental health care for all of Kentucky’s children. 

Amy Lynn Meadows, MD, MHS, FAAP, FAPA, DFAACAP

Dr. Laurie L. Humphries, Endowed Chair in Child Psychiatry

Child Psychiatry Division Director

Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics

Associate Program Director, Triple Board (Pediatrics/Psychiatry/Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) Residency 

University of Kentucky College of Medicine


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