DEA News
Return to News Home

One in seven US children has at least one mental health disorder

A new University of Michigan study found that half of them don't get treatment.

Natalie Rahhal, The Daily Mail, Feb 11, 2019

In recent years, mental health conditions have been on the rise in the US, especially among children and teenagers.

Some have blamed technology, while others suggest that there is simply an increased awareness of mental health concerns.

But whatever the case may be, struggling with mental health conditions as a child - especially without proper treatment - paves a harder road to adulthood, and raises the risk of both lifelong mental illness and other chronic health problems.

The team at University of Michigan collected data on about 4.6.6 million children across the US.

Ranging from age zero to 17, 16.5 percent of the kids had been diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder at some point in their lives.

That means that some 7.7 million children are struggling with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD or any one of over 200 possible mental health concerns.

And several of the states with the highest rates of pediatric mental health disorder - Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah - also had the highest rates of children that went untreated, according to the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics.

None of these ranked worst for mental health, however. More children had mental health conditions in Maine, where 27.2 percent had been diagnosed, than in any other state.

Hawaii, on the other hand, had a relatively low incidence of children with such concerns. There, only 7.6 percent of kids had been diagnosed.

Too often, even after a child is diagnosed with a mental illness, stigma, cost or a combination of the two deterrents.

Take, for example, ADHD, one of the most common (if perhaps over-diagnosed and medicated) mental health conditions in children.

A 2012 calculated the annual cost of treating ADHD in children to be $2,720 a year without insurance.

Many insurers do cover the medication, but often require the prescription to come from a psychiatrist, rather than a family practice physician or pediatrician.

Another specialist (which might be more expensive) may mean another referral, another co-pay, another hour or more out of work and school, and so on.

What's more, some studies suggest that children who get behavioral therapies for ADHD instead of or in addition to drug therapies fare better in the long run.

But these treatment plans are even less likely to be covered by insurers, once again limiting the access to optimal care for many families.

'In children, mental health disorders have deleterious consequences on individual and socioeconomic factors and can impede healthful transitioning into adulthood, and the incidence of mental health disorders has been increasing over the decades,' the study authors wrote.

Leveling the playing field for the care available to children across the US could give more children a better shot at thriving as they grow up, no matter where they live or what their family's socioeconomic status is.

'Initiatives that assist systems of care coordination have demonstrated a reduction of mental health-related burdens across multiple domains,' they concluded.

Return to News Home