The study tracked a substantial group covered by employer-provided insurance, indicating a 26% increase in spending on mental health for those aged 19 and under between March 2020 and August 2022.
The demand for mental health services among children and adolescents has surged by over a quarter since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, persisting even as telehealth usage stabilized, reveals a recent study by the RAND Corporation
Concurrently, the demand for mental health services witnessed a 22% rise. Telehealth services for pediatric patients experienced a staggering 30-fold surge in the initial months of the pandemic and remained 23 times higher than usual by August 2022, despite in-person care recovering to 75% of pre-pandemic levels. The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, underscore the crucial role of telehealth in pediatric mental health care during and beyond the pandemic.
The study scrutinized claims from 1.9 million children and adolescents covered by commercial insurance from January 2019 to August 2022. The most prevalent mental health diagnoses were anxiety disorders, adjustment disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder, and conduct disorder.
Notably, in the acute phase of the pandemic (March 2020 to December 2020), in-person mental health services for pediatric patients saw a 42% decline, while tele-mental health services surged approximately 30-fold compared to the preceding year. Overall, demand for mental health services usage rose by 13% during this period.
As vaccines became available in December 2020, there was a gradual uptick in both in-person and telehealthcare spending rates
By August 2022, in-person mental services had rebounded to 75% of pre-pandemic levels, while telehealth remained 23 times higher. Overall, mental health service utilization in August 2022 was nearly 22% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
Treatment for ADHD, anxiety disorders, and adjustment disorders constituted the majority of visits and spending throughout the study periods. The study’s lead author, Mariah M. Kalmin, emphasized that as evidence mounts regarding telehealth’s effectiveness in delivering mental health treatment for children and youths, these findings have far-reaching implications for the sustainability of telehealth beyond the pandemic. Dena Bravata, a study co-author and senior scientific advisor, stressed the significance of addressing the escalating demand for mental health services for children with mental health conditions for the well-being of both caregivers and dependents.