As many as 17.1 million adolescents are estimated to develop a mental health disorder by the age of 18, according to the Child Mind Institute.
Beginning in 2012, pediatric prescriptions of psychiatric drugs began to surge alongside diagnoses of mental illnesses, but parents’ priorities are shifting way from medication and toward prevention and care, like therapy.
Public opinion seems to be catching up to clinicians’ advise, according to a new Nationwide Children’s Hospital poll that found that 87 percent of Americans want better mental health care for kids.
Whether you blame social media, helicopter parents, sleeplessness or wealth disparities, every measure indicates that the mental health of American children is in a worse state than ever.
Between 2000 and 2015, rates of depression rose in all age groups in the US.
But the surge among teenagers over 12 outpaced other age groups by four-fold.
The story is similar for anxiety and depression, both of which have reached record highs among teenagers in recent years.
Even elementary school children are affected, with one in seven kids between three and eight suffering from a mental or behavioral disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In February, the country was forced to take note of mental health warning signs friends and acquaintances to the Parkland school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, came out of the woodwork, attesting to his unaddressed mental health issues.
In an unrelated – but timely – move, the American College of Pediatricians released new guidelines shortly thereafter, urging doctors to make mental health screening a part of every child’s exam.
The new survey confirms that it isn’t just clinicians that see a need for better childhood mental health care.
Contracting with the Harris Poll, which is one of the longest running surveys to track US public opinion, Nationwide Children’s queried 2,000 Americans, including 500 parents of children under 18.
Out of the parents, 37 percent said that they knew a child – either their own or another in their life – that was in need of mental health support.
‘The survey confirms the public knows what the research shows and what we see in clinic – the need for pediatric behavioral health services is significant,’ said Dr David Axelson, MD, chief of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and medical director of Big Lots Behavioral Health Services at Nationwide Children’s.
Obvious though the need is, not one state in the US has enough child psychiatrists to meet standards set by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
With the exception of a handful of Northeastern states, all other states have a severe shortage of qualified professionals to give children mental health support.
Even if this weren’t the case, the simple existence of these services and providers is not enough; they have to be accessible to the children that need them.
In the new study, 37 percent of Americans said that children don’t get the mental health care they need simply because it is too expensive.
Another third of families reported that insurance coverage – rather, lack thereof – was prohibitive to the care their children need.
Often, the poorest children are at the greatest risk of mental health and behavioral issues.
Conditions that go undiagnosed and untreated worsen with time and increase the likelihood that a child will act out and struggle in school, and predicting 80 percent of adult mental health disorders.
Sadly, a higher household income is predictive of a better job and overall wellbeing prospects for children, as well as for a better chance at having their mental health concerns addressed early.
Medicaid covers mental health care for some children, but, as the Kaiser Family Foundation found in 2017, ‘one in 10 (11 percent) children eligible for Medicaid based on income have a behavioral health diagnosis as of 2011.’
As the Affordable Care Act teeters in jeopardy, many questions as to the fate of funding for services like children’s mental health care plague Americans, as the new study shows.
Nationwide Children’s has introduced a program to screen and provide therapy to children even before they reach pre-school in order to reduce their risks of expulsion from school and prevent lifelong mental health struggles.
‘The goal of programs like these is to remove barriers and intervene before a family ever needs to come to a provider’s office,’ said Dr Axelson.