American teens seeking mental health respite nearly doubled insurance claims amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, according to a recent analysis.
The findings from nonprofit Fair Health stemmed from over 32 billion private healthcare claims filed from January to November 2020. Results noted a surge in claims particularly among teens aged 13-18, while 19 to 22-year-olds had “similar but less pronounced” trends.
“In March and April 2020, mental health claim lines for individuals aged 13-18, as a percentage of all medical claim lines, approximately doubled over the same months in the previous year,” per the report. “All medical claim lines (including mental health claim lines), however, decreased by approximately half.”
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Dr. Paul Nestadt, assistant professor of psychiatry and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins University of School of Medicine, told Fox News the results are consistent with other studies documenting a significant rise in patient visits related to mental health amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He suggested that general pediatric emergency room visits, on the other hand, were down due to fear of becoming infected with the virus.
“Anecdotally, our own pediatric ER and inpatient psychiatric units are seeing similar increases,” Nestadt said in an email. “This may reflect lack of access to routine outpatient care, which often plays a preventative role for mental health crises. However, it is very likely also the result of the dramatic shift in teen lives that come from school virtualization, canceled social and extracurricular events, and the same pandemic fatigue that impacts all of us.”
More specifically, the report documented a 94% increase in claims related to generalized anxiety disorder for those 13-18 in April, while major depressive and adjustment disorders claims saw 84% and 90% increases, respectively.
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Report authors tied mental health difficulties amid the pandemic to “infection-related fears, bereavement, economic instability and social isolation.”
The findings also included increases in claims related to intentional self-harm, overdoses at over 90% and substance use disorders (around 65%) among the 13-18 group.
Colleen Cullen, PsyD, associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University, told Fox News that many adolescents have experienced anxiety due to pandemic-related stress, fears over health and impacts of economic instability. Cullen also noted stressful events in 2020 related to racism and the presidential election, while remote learning had a “profound impact” on socialization.
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“Teenagers are social creatures and much of their identity development is wrapped up in their interactions with peers,” Cullen also said in an email. “Even if teens have been able to see small groups of friends in a safe manner, that is certainly not the same as what is typical for so many in this phase of life.”
Missing in-person interactions through sports, religious communities and other organizations have taken away common outlets teens use to manage emotions, Cullen explained.
“This has contributed to feelings of sadness, isolation and loneliness in many adolescents,” Cullen wrote. “In addition, many have also had to grieve the loss of common milestones, like typical proms and graduations, sporting events and/or opportunities, parties, college visits and more.”
The study authors noted that the findings highlight the damaging mental health effects the pandemic has taken on the country’s younger populations, and hope the results will inform further research on the subject.