Nearly 1 in 7 US kids and teens has a mental health condition, and half go untreated, study says

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 2/11/2019, 12:30 p.m.
Half of children with a mental health condition in the United States go without treatment, according to a study published ...
Half of children with a mental health condition in the United States go without treatment, according to a new study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

By Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, CNN

(CNN) -- Half of children with a mental health condition in the United States go without treatment, according to a study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers analyzed data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, a nationwide survey administered to parents of children and teens. Of the 46.6 million children ages 6 through 18 whose parents completed the survey, 7.7 million had at least one mental health condition -- such as depression, anxiety or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder -- and only half received treatment or counseling from a mental health provider in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The number of children with a mental health condition varied widely from state to state. In Hawaii, for example, 7.6% of children had one of the conditions, compared with 27.2% in Maine. The number of children with a diagnosed mental health condition who weren't treated by a provider also ranged widely, from 29.5% in the District of Columbia to 72.2% in North Carolina.

Mark Peterson, associate professor at University of Michigan Medicine and senior author of the study, has a long history of studying health conditions that start in childhood and result in disabilities later on in life.

"Historically, I've studied everything from the neck down," he said. Peterson said he has recently taken a step back to think about conditions that affect children from an early age in a more comprehensive way, which led him to study mental health. He didn't expect to find such high numbers.

But child and adolescent psychiatrists and psychologists weren't at all surprised by the results.

"Unfortunately, this is not news for us," said Dr. Barbara Robles-Ramamurthy, child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, who was not involved in the study.

"We have known that the number of children who have mental illness and that go untreated is very high," she added.

There are a number of difficulties and challenges for children and their families when it comes to accessing mental health services, explained Jennifer Mautone, psychologist in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Families are concerned about stigma and coverage

Within some families and communities, mental illness is still seen in a negative light, Robles-Ramamurthy explained.

"We have just over the last couple of decades started to really work on destigmatizing mental illness," she said.

As a result, many times families and youth don't feel comfortable accessing mental health services, Mautone added.

The next big issue is insurance coverage, Robles-Ramamurthy said.

"There is a wide variability on what is covered, how much is covered, and people are concerned. Mental health treatment is not usually a once-every-couple-months type of environment," she said. "For families struggling to make ends meet, the expenses can pose a real challenge."

Even in states with appropriate provisions for families seeking mental health treatment, there may not be enough qualified providers.