LOS ANGELES – Almost half of all adult Californians and more than a quarter of teens in L.A. County reported experiencing anxiety or depression last year due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Children’s Hospital Los Angeles survey released Thursday.
In previous years, the pediatric hospital identified mental health as the top community priority. That need became even more urgent in the COVID-19 years, according to CHLA’s 2022 Community Health Needs Assessment.
The hospital’s latest survey “tells a story of a population further stressed by an unprecedented virus,” according to the report.
In 2021, 46.1% of adult Californians reported experiencing anxiety or depression, and more than 27.5% of teenagers in L.A. County reported needing help with mental and emotional health, the 2022 survey revealed.
CHLA’s assessment found that “mental health is a significant concern for many community stakeholders, especially for children, adolescents and young adults,” said Lara Khouri, CHLA’s executive vice president and chief strategy officer.
“At CHLA, delivery of mental health services for patients by behavioral health specialists embedded in multiple CHLA specialty divisions has been a longstanding hospital commitment.”
Other community priorities noted in the 2022 report include homelessness/housing, economic security/poverty, patient/family-centered health care, obesity, food security and the impact of communicable/infectious disease. At least one in five households reported experiencing food worries — a top concern in previous years’ CHLA reports as well.
The survey found that COVID-related mental health is a significant concern for many community and was referenced often in focus groups. Community residents conveyed the trauma of losing loved ones and neighbors, the ongoing stress of social distancing, and pandemic fatigue. Service providers expressed the impact on children with increased behavioral challenges, decreased educational opportunities, and lack of socialization for children of all ages, according to the report.
County residents stated that they are frustrated with the lack of services to address anxiety, depression, and substance abuse and concerned about the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey found.
CHLA found that stigma, lack of cultural humility, limited services, long wait lists, and pandemic-related limitations were often cited as barriers for community members to access care.
Across L.A. County, almost half of adults, 48.9%, sought help in 2020 compared to 17.1% in 2017. However, 6.7% of adults visited a professional in 2020 for those issues, as compared with 15.1% in 2017. Despite the shift to online care and telehealth, only 6.5% of adults sought help from an online tool for mental health or addiction support.
The impact on youth was widespread, the report said. One service provider was quoted as stating, “Kids are like sponges absorbing all this stress.”
While 27.5% of teens in the county reported needing help with their mental and emotional health, the biggest impact was revealed in South Los Angeles, where 36.9% of teens described needing help, according to the survey.
All nonprofit hospitals must conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment and develop an implementation strategy every three years as mandated by federal and state law. The report serves to provide a deeper understanding of the health and social needs of the community and details the facility’s community benefit program planning efforts.
The assessment “allows us to identify areas of need, and we look at where CHLA has strengths that may be able to address those needs and where we can influence change or identify the best partners to take the lead,” CHLA President and Chief Executive Officer Paul S. Viviano said.
CHLA says it has recently launched new initiatives tied to the behavioral and developmental health of children, including the formation of the Behavioral Health Institute, the Department of Psychology, the Division of Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, the Developmental and Behavioral Outpatient Center.
“These programs were inspired by the growing need for these types of services in the community and we shifted our priorities accordingly to help meet those needs,” Khouri said.