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Pediatric Behavioral Health during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Expert Advice for Preparedness, Response, and Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the child mental health crisis and existing disparities. Child anxiety, depression, suicide attempts and completions, and mental-health-related emergency department visits significantly increased. In response to this crisis, the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) developed behavioral health task forces associated with funded pediatric centers of disaster excellence. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded the Pediatric Pandemic Network (PPN) to prepare for future endemics and pandemics, with behavioral health identified as a priority in mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. This commentary provides insights from pediatric disaster preparedness and response behavioral health subject matter experts. Our roles have been to identify how to build behavioral health professional competencies across disciplines and various medical settings and to strengthen emergency interdisciplinary behavioral health care capability regionally and at the national level. Specific examples of interdisciplinary training and demonstration projects are included as models for enhancing behavioral health situational awareness and developing curricula to support preparedness and response for the current ongoing pandemic and future natural and biological disasters. This commentary also includes a call to action for workforce development to move beyond a boots-on-the-ground mentality for pediatric behavioral health disaster preparedness and response toward a more inclusive role for behavioral health providers of varied specialties. This means that behavioral health providers should become more informed of federal programs in this area, seek further training, and find innovative ways to collaborate with their medical colleagues and community partners.

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