Most Of The NYC Preteens With Behavioral Problems Are Going Untreated

According to a recent New York City Health Department analysis of city preteens’ mental health, over 145,000 children between the ages of six and 12 suffer from mental illness or other emotional problems — constituting one in five NYC children, the New York Post reports.

The report also found that city preteens’ mental health demographics approximately tracked national trends, with ADHD being the most commonly diagnosed mental illness, young boys much more likely to be diagnosed with a problem than young girls, and adverse physical effects such as sleep deprivation affecting kids with a behavioral disorder. But the report’s most disturbing findings have to do with these children’s access to appropriate care:

The study pointed to lapses in treatment. Only two-thirds of kids with a mental-disorder diagnosis received medical help in the prior year, including 36 percent who received medication. Only 17 percent of kids whose parents identified them as having behavioral problems got assistance. […]

The Health Department insisted the city rates were in line with national figures. The department also said it offers extensive mental services through its Family Resource Centers and public-school clinics.

It encourages families to call the 24-hour hot line LifeNet (1-800-543-3638) to connect to services.

“Over 400 schools offer mental-health services, either as part of school-based health centers or via dedicated mental-health clinics,” said a Health Department spokesman, Sam Miller.

To be fair to the city, New York actually has a fairly robust public mental health system. A 2003 study finds that unmet mental health care needs for New York children and their families was almost eight percentage points lower than the national average. Still, as the paltry numbers in the city’s own analysis demonstrate, there’s still a long way to go — particularly since mental health problems that take root in youth tend to do long-lasting damage to kids’ mental and physical health.

The findings suggest that schools — which are children’s primary access points to mental health care — have to do a better job at actually utilizing those resources by identifying mental and behavioral problems in kids, and engage with parents who might be dissuaded by the societal stigma surrounding mental health care. Less than 20 percent of parents in New York City who suspect their child to have behavioral health issues decide to pursue care.