Researchers analyzed data from the 2016 National Child Health Survey, a national survey administered to parents of children and adolescents. Of the 46.6 million children aged 6 to 18 whose parents responded to the survey, 7.7 million had at least one mental health problem – depression, anxiety, or mental disorder. hyperactivity / deficit of attention / for example – and only half of them have benefited from psychological treatment or counseling. health provider in the 12 months preceding the survey.
The number of children with a mental health problem varied considerably from one state to the other. In Hawaii, for example, 7.6% of children had one of these conditions, compared to 27.2% in Maine. The number of children with a diagnosed mental health disorder who were not treated by a provider also varied widely, ranging from 29.5% in the District of Columbia to 72.2% in North Carolina.
Mark Peterson, an associate professor at the University of Michigan Medicine and lead author of the study, has long studied health conditions that begin in childhood and lead to disabilities later in life.
"Historically, I have studied everything from neck to arm," he said. Peterson said he had recently stepped back to think more broadly about the conditions that affect children from an early age., which led him to study mental health. He did not expect to find such a high number.
But psychiatrists and psychologists for children and adolescents have not been at all surprised by the results.
"Unfortunately, this is not news for us," said Dr. Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy, psychiatrist for children and teens of the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, who does not have a doctor. did not participate in the study.
"We know that the number of children with mental illness and untreated is very high," she added.
Jennifer Mautone, a psychologist at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, faces a number of challenges and challenges for children and their families with respect to access to mental health services.
Families are worried about stigma and coverage
In some families and communities, mental illness is still perceived negatively, Robles-Ramamurthy said.
"In the last twenty years, we have really started working on the destigmatization of mental illness," she said.
As a result, families and young people often feel uncomfortable accessing mental health services, Mautone added.
The next big problem is insurance coverage, Robles-Ramamurthy said.
"There is a great deal of variability in what is covered, what is covered, and people, and mental health treatments are generally not a type of environment every two months," he said. she declared. "For families struggling to make ends meet, spending can be a challenge."
Even in states with appropriate provisions for families seeking mental health treatment, there may not be enough qualified providers.
There is a serious shortage of mental health providers
This means that many families face long waiting times, which can in turn worsen the underlying mental health condition of the child and possibly require more treatment sessions that if the problem had been treated in its early stages, explained Mautone.
Available skilled service providers face another challenge: communicating with other childcare systems.
Robles-Ramamurthy said that many systems in the country were taking care of children, including the education system, the health system, the juvenile justice system and the child protection system. ;childhood.
"All these systems supposed to take care of children do not often speak with each other," she said. "Very often, children fail and families do not get the appropriate help they need," she added.
The path to follow
In an effort to provide fast mental health services to children, many pediatric health systems have begun to integrate these services into pediatric offices.
By partnering with pediatricians, mental health providers build on existing trust and are able to reach families in a familiar environment, said Mautone, who leads one of these programs: Healthy Minds Healthy Kids Initiative, Philadelphia Children's Hospital.
"We are available, many times the same day, to explain our service, meet the family and begin to understand what the challenges are," she added.
The program has served more than 2,500 patients over the past two years and continues to grow. Robles-Ramamurthy sees this as a sign of progress, but says that there is still much to be done.
"Untreated mental illness in children has serious consequences for our communities, including high rates of suicide, school decline and unemployment," she said.