Mar 2, 2021 - Health

Exclusive: Teenagers' mental health claims doubled last spring

Mental health claim lines for children increased in 2020, while overall medical claim lines decreased

Teenagers' demand for mental health care skyrocketed last year amid the pandemic, even as their overall need for care declined, according to a new analysis by FAIR Health.

Why it matters: Parents, schools and pediatricians have been warning for months that kids aren't OK, and this analysis backs up their concern with numbers.

The big picture: The coronavirus pandemic has been disruptive to the lives of Americans of all ages, but for teenagers, the isolation and change in routine comes during a critical developmental stage.

  • The toll that staying home has taken on children's mental health is one of many reasons schools should reopen, some experts say.

By the numbers: Mental health care claim lines — or individual health services — for children 13-18 doubled in March and April of last year, compared to 2019.

  • In contrast, the number of overall claim lines for this age group was about half of the 2019 level.
  • This trend continued on through November, although less drastically.

Details: Females were much likelier to require mental health care than males.

  • The percentage of all medical claim lines that were for intentional self-harm nearly doubled in March and April, compared to the same month in 2019. Claim lines for overdoses increased by 94.91% in March and 119.31% in April compared to the year before. Both remained elevated through November.
  • The most common diagnoses in teenagers were consistently major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and adjustment disorders. These conditions also became more prevalent, as a percentage of total medical claim lines, compared to 2019 levels.

What we're watching: Mental health issues can be situational, but that doesn't mean that once the pandemic ends, all will go back to normal.

  • Some children will likely require long-term treatment, something the U.S. health system has historically been bad at.
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