OTTAWA -- Canada's top children's hospitals, including CHEO, are declaring a mental health emergency among children and youth as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.

"School closures, the lack of access to sports and recreational programs, and social isolation have resulted in children being one of the hardest hit populations during the COVID-19 pandemic," a release said.

Advocates describe what they call "staggering" numbers of increases to suicide attempts and substance-use disorder admissions.

"Suicide attempt admissions have increased by 100 per cent on average during the pandemic," the release says. "Admissions for substance-use disorders have increased by 200 per cent."

It goes on to say that 70 per cent of children ages 6 to 18 have said the pandemic has harmed their mental health.

"There has been a 61 per cent increase in ER visits among children and youth for mental health conditions over the last decade," advocates say. "(Toronto's) SickKids Hospital reports a further 25 per cent increase during the pandemic."

Physical health is also at risk. Beyond the effects of COVID-19, the hospitals say the pandemic has also led to a 24 per cent increase in surgical backlogs and a sharp increase in reports of child abuse, including a doubling of the number of infants being admitted with fractures or head trauma.

"Children and youth have experienced the pandemic in unique and relentless ways since day one," says CHEO CEO Alex Munter. "Prior to COVID-19, Canada had already slipped to 30th out of 38 developed countries for child health and well-being. Kids must be at the centre of Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plans, for the sake of their futures and for the sake of our country’s."

In response, advocates are launching the #CodePink campaign.

"The term 'Code Pink' is used to declare a pediatric emergency, and the campaign is calling on the federal and provincial/territorial governments to act immediately to address this emergency," the release says.

The #CodePink campaign has been organized by Children First Canada, a national charitable organization. Children First Canada says children’s health organizations from across the country have joined this effort, including Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundations, CHEO, Children’s Healthcare Canada, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, McMaster Children’s Hospital, Sick Kids Hospital and the Young Canadian’s Health Roundtable.

“We’re declaring a #CodePINK because kids are in a state of crisis and we are calling for an emergency response. Their physical and mental health needs are escalating daily, and the impacts will be felt for years to come,” says Sara Austin, Founder and CEO of Children First Canada. “The crisis is particularly impacting the most vulnerable, including First Nations, Métis and Inuit children, Black and other racialized children, and children and youth with disabilities and complex medical needs.”

More details can be found at