Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health Safety Net Services for Youths: A National Survey of Agency Officials

Jonathan Purtle, Katherine L. Nelson, Sarah Mc Cue Horwitz, Lawrence A. Palinkas, Mary M. McKay, Kimberly E. Hoagwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Mental health agencies provide critical safety net services for youths. No research has assessed impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on services these agencies provide or youths they serve. This study sought to characterize agency officials' perceptions of the pandemic's impacts on youths and challenges to providing youth services during the pandemic and to examine associations between these challenges and impacts. METHODS: Surveys were completed in September-October 2020 by 159 state or county mental health agency officials from 46 states. Respondents used 7-point scales (higher rating indicated more severe impact or challenge) to rate the pandemic's impact on youth mental health issues, general service challenges, and telepsychiatry service challenges across patient, provider, and financing domains. Multiple linear regression models estimated associations between service challenges (independent variables) and pandemic impacts (dependent variables). RESULTS: Most agency officials perceived the pandemic as having disproportionately negative mental health impacts on socially disadvantaged youths (serious impact, 72%; mean rating=5.85). Only 15% (mean=4.29) perceived the pandemic as having a seriously negative impact on receipt of needed youth services. Serious service challenges were related to youths' lack of reliable equipment or Internet access for telepsychiatry services (serious challenge, 59%; mean=5.47) and the inability to provide some services remotely (serious challenge, 42%, mean=4.72). In regression models, the inability to provide some services remotely was significantly (p≤0.01) associated with three of five pandemic impacts. CONCLUSIONS: Officials perceived the COVID-19 pandemic as exacerbating youth mental health disparities but as not having a dramatic impact on receipt of needed services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)381-387
Number of pages7
JournalHospital and Community Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2022


  • Child psychiatry/general
  • Coronavirus/COVID-19
  • Public health
  • Public policy issues
  • Service delivery systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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