Letter to the DC Mayor

May 31, 2022

Dear Mayor Bowser,

On behalf of 468 pediatricians in Washington, DC, we write you at a time of urgent need for children in the United States. We have witnessed soaring rates of mental health challenges for children, adolescents, and their families across the last two years, exacerbating the situation that predated the COVID-19 pandemic. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide rose steadily between 2010 and 2020, and by 2018 suicide was the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10-18.

The pandemic has intensified this crisis: across the country we have witnessed dramatic increases in emergency department visits for all mental health emergencies, including suspected suicide attempts. A recent study conducted by HHS, found that between 2016 and 2020, the number of children, ages 3-17 years old, diagnosed with anxiety grew by 29% and those with depression by 27%. Children of color are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and the inequities that result from structural racism impact their mental health care.

Pediatricians are seeing more children with mental health needs in their clinics than ever before and across the country stories of children in mental health crisis waiting weeks in Emergency Departments awaiting appropriate care. This is a crisis that needs to be addressed through swift action and dedicated resources to improve access to and quality of services across the continuum of care from promotion and prevention to early identification and treatment to crisis response. We urge you to declare an emergency in Washington, DC, and allocate funds and resources to support:

  • Fully staffed school-based mental health services.
  • Pediatric specific-mental health services in area-developed 988 mental health response systems.
  • Address children’s mental health workforce shortages through loan forgiveness programs.
  • Target child and adolescent suicide prevention through suicide identification programs and lethal means access reduction.

In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics along with the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health, calling on all federal, state, and local policymakers to fully fund the needed programs and address current barriers to care to ensure that all children have access to mental health services across the country. Today, as we join other advocates in commemorating Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, we along with our undersigned AAP state chapter, would like to thank you for your partnership on this critically important child health issue. We would also like to thank you and the DC council for expanding the budget to fund HealthSteps at an additional site, expanding the Healthy Futures program, and helping to fund the First Time Mother’s Visiting Program. The DC AAP looks forward to working with you to continue expanding access to child and adolescent mental health care in our area. Thank you.


Tamara Gayle, MD, MEd, MPH
DC AAP Advocacy Chair