Background: Data are scarce on assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people. Aim: To examine changes in crisis text patterns in the United States during the pandemic compared to the prepandemic period. Method: Nonintrusive data from a national digital crisis texting platform were analyzed using an interrupted time series design. Poisson regression with repeated-measures examined help-seeking patterns for stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and other mental health concerns in the pandemic (March 13 to July 20, 2020) compared to the prepandemic period (March 13 to July 20, 2019). Results: An abrupt increase in national crisis response texts occurred during the pandemic for stress and anxiety, substance abuse, bereavement, isolation, and abuse compared to the prepandemic period. Similar trends of excess texts for isolation and abuse were reported among children (relative risk [RR]abuse: 1.16, CI: 1.03, 1.31; RRisolation: 1.15, CI: 1.09, 1.21) and adolescents (RRabuse: 1.17, CI: 1.11, 1.24; RRisolation: 1.08, CI: 1.05, 1.11), bereavement among Black (RR: 1.31, CI: 1.12, 1.54) and Hispanic (RR: 1.28, CI: 1.10, 1.49) texters, and isolation and bereavement in female (RRisolation: 1.09, CI: 1.06, 1.11; RRbereavement: 1.21, CI: 1.13, 1.28) or nonconforming youth (RRisolation: 1.19, CI: 1.08, 1.32; RRbereavement: 1.50, CI: 1.08, 2.09) texters. Conversely, the risks of reporting bullying, depression, relationship issues, and suicidal thoughts as reasons for texting were significantly lower during COVID-19. Limitations: Results may underestimate crisis support-seeking in some groups because demographic data were not captured on all texters. Conclusion: Findings illuminated the real-time crisis response of young people across the United States and can inform more responsive interventions to alleviate the mental health consequences brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keywords: COVID-19; crisis help-seeking; digital intervention; mental health; quasi-experimental; youth.