The Youth Mental Health Crisis – Resources for Parents

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Barry D. Sarvet, MD Barry D. Sarvet, MD View Profile
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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the current state of mental health for our youth is in a crisis. While there is not a lot of good data on the true impact yet, what we do know is that there are high levels of mental health risk associated with many of the stressors of the pandemic.

Mental Health Stressors due to COVID-19

  • Loneliness due to limited interactions with peers
  • Limited access to school mentors and positive role models
  • Less structure in some home environments
  • Fears about the pandemic and its effect on family and friends
  • Increase in alcohol and drug use among parents or caregivers due to pandemic stressors

These stressors can lead to depression, anxiety and behavioral problems – the three main mental health disorders seen in youth.

The Current State

Access to mental health care became very limited during the pandemic – many programs shut down and some of the programs that went virtual did not have the same success with children as being face-to-face with a therapist or counselor.

Due to the limited services, Baystate Health has seen a rise in pediatric emergency room visits over the course of the pandemic.

“Each of these emergency room visits represent a serious mental health crisis in the life of an individual child and their family. Given a regional and national shortage of inpatient psychiatry beds for children, this has resulted in a system-level crisis of large numbers of children having to be held in the emergency room for days or even weeks, waiting for an inpatient bed,” says Dr. Barry Sarvet, Baystate Health Chair of the Department of Psychiatry.

As the COVID-19 pandemic winds down and more child psychiatric beds open up in western Massachusetts, these challenges will ease up. However, these emergency room visits only represent the tip of the iceberg since many more children and adolescents need outpatient care and we are also experiencing shortages of outpatient mental health services.

Symptoms to Watch For

If you are concerned about your child, or a child in your life, here are some symptoms of anxiety and depression in youth.


  • Withdrawal from human interaction or activities usually enjoyed by the child
  • Lack of motivation
  • Interrupted or poor sleep
  • Sadness
  • Irritability – argumentativeness, defiance, and general negativity


  • Avoiding activities usually enjoyed by the child
  • Not participating in social gatherings or events
  • Constricting their own lifestyle
  • Talking less than usual

Next Steps

If you are observing some of these symptoms in your child, it is important to get them the help they need. Dr. Sarvet, states “When parents or teachers are concerned about the mental health of their child, I am a big fan of bringing this to the attention of your child’s pediatric primary care provider. In Massachusetts, pediatric primary care providers have access to the resources of a special program called the MA Child Psychiatry Access Program which can help them to provide a first level of evaluation and treatment for mental health issues and to navigate the resources of the mental health system.”

If you are concerned about immediate self-harm or harm of others, please seek emergency help immediately.

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