Republicans call on CDC to release 2021 child suicide data: problem 'worsened' by pandemic

Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., led the letter with 19 of his lower chamber GOP colleagues to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky asking the agency to publish the still-unreleased data.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a worsening crisis in our society: our children’s mental health,” Steil said in a press release first obtained by Fox News Digital. “The data on suicide rates among children is an important tool needed to strengthen our mental health infrastructure.”

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Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisc., says the pandemic "exacerbated a worsening crisis in our society: our children’s mental health." 

Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wisc., says the pandemic “exacerbated a worsening crisis in our society: our children’s mental health.”  (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“As we approach the coming school year, this critical data will help us make informed decisions to support our children and improve their mental health,” he continued.

In the letter, the lawmakers ask Walensky to “work with” the members of Congress “to address this long-standing problem that was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We understand the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not released data for suicide rates among children for 2021,” they wrote. “While we note the provisional data has been released, we ask why the CDC has not released the final data that is a critical indicator of our nation’s mental health.”

The lawmakers wrote that childhood “is a critical period to prevent and treat mental health” and that half “of all mental illness occurs before a person turns 14 years old.”

Steil and the Republicans also said that the “number of children admitted to children’s hospitals for thoughts of suicide or self-harm has doubled since 2016.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been criticized for her COVID-19 policies.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been criticized for her COVID-19 policies. (Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS)

“Clearly, even before the pandemic, America was experiencing a mental health crisis among children and adolescents,” they wrote, continuing to write the COVID-19 pandemic “further exacerbated this problem and strained the healthcare system, leaving children to struggle with unmet mental health needs.”

“During the pandemic, school closures, social restrictions, and disrupted routines placed considerable stress on children and their families,” they wrote. “These developments limited access to many resources children rely on to cope with stress and anxiety.”

The lawmakers called the statistics “frightening and breathtaking” and cited the CDC’s previous data from “mid-March 2020 into October of that year” that, when compared to the 2019 data, showed “mental health-related emergency department visits among children ages 5-11 years increased by 24%.”

They also noted the 31% increase for “adolescent children aged 12-17” during the same time period.

The suicide statistics are even more appalling,” Steil and his colleagues wrote. “According to a May 2020 CDC study, emergency department visits for suicide attempts among adolescents ages 12-17 was 39% higher than the same period during 2019.”

Youth mental health issues have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Youth mental health issues have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic. (iStock)

“The problem is compounded by the fact that in the United States suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24,” they continued.

The Republicans concluded their letter saying the data “shows the scope of the crisis we are facing” and that the government “must take long overdue steps to strengthen our mental health infrastructure” if it is “to better meet the needs of our children.”

“This must be a top priority,” Steil and his colleagues concluded. “We stand ready to work with you to meet these challenges.”

Joining Steil on the letter are Republicans from across the party’s spectrum, including Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, Greg Murphy of North Carolina, and Kat Cammack of Florida.

The CDC did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment on the letter.

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