The mental health issues that affect children include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, mood and anxiety disorders, behavioral disorders, substance abuse, and Tourette Syndrome. The CDC found that ADHD was the most commonly reported mental disorder, affecting about 4.2 million children between the ages of 3 and 17. About 1.2 million children in that age group are battling depression, and about 678,000 fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. And an estimated 40 percent of children who have been diagnosed with a disorder actually suffer from multiple different mental health issues.
The CDC estimates that treating those mental health issues costs the U.S. about $247 billion each year. But that actually represents just a fraction of what the nation should be spending, since less than a quarter of the children living with mental disorders are receiving the treatment they need:
Although the prevalence, early onset and effect on society make childhood mental problems a major public health issue, only 21 percent of affected children get treatment because of a shortage of pediatric sub-specialists and child and adolescent psychiatrists, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Our current health care system does not meet the needs of these children,” Martin J. Drell, the group’s president, said last week in a statement about the problem.
Making matters worse, fewer medical students are opting for careers in children’s mental health, while the current crop of professionals is aging out of the workforce. The dearth of providers means troubled youngsters in underserved rural and urban areas are less likely to get timely care.
“Children with serious medical conditions should not have where they live determine what kind of health care services they receive,” said Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Researchers say their new report represents the first comprehensive look at mental health issues among children. “This report is a reflection of what’s happening in the nation as a whole,” one of the report’s authors, Dr. Ruth Perou, told the Daily Beast. “We’re finally opening a dialogue on mental health.”
After a series of recent mass shootings, there has been renewed interest in these kind of national discussions regarding mental health issues. Indeed, the U.S. has a long way to go in this area. Half of mentally ill Americans are currently skipping out on treatment because they can’t afford it, partly because mental health care providers don’t always accept private insurance. This problem was exacerbated by the recent economic downturn, which led many states to slash billions of dollars in funding from their mental health programs. Predictably, as those mental health services have disappeared, the prison population has skyrocketed. A recent survey of Texas’ juvenile detention facilities found that the rate of mental illness exceeds the rate of gang membership among teen prisoners there.
Fortunately, there has been some legislative movement in this area. At the beginning of this year, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) held a series of hearings on the dire state of youth’s mental health services, and introduced a measure to strengthen school’s resources for identifying and treating kids’ mental disorders.