20% of American children suffer from mental illness

The new SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) law that President Obama signed significantly increases health coverage for children, which also includes mental health parity. According to Nancy Shute of U.S. News & World Report, health coverage is expanded to:

“4 million more children beyond the 6 million already covered but also brings mental-health parity to the state programs that provide insurance for children in low-income families, requiring that they get the same access to treatment for bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other serious disorders as they do for physical ailments.”

Then I stumble across this:

Depressed child“Mental-health needs are nowhere near being met,” says Jay E. Berkelhamer, past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chief academic officer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “At least 20 percent of all visits to pediatricians’ offices are related to mental-health problems.

Normally, though, overworked pediatricians may not ask if a child has a mental-health problem—and may not know where to refer him or her if they do. About 20 percent of children and teenagers have a mental-health problem at any given time, or about 8 million to 13 million people. Two thirds of them are not getting the help they need.

That means out of roughly 40-65 million kids, we have 8-13 million who are “mentally ill.” And then about 5-8 million who aren’t getting proper mental help.

Color me cynical but I think 20 percent is a disproportionately high number to classify children as mentally ill. I think the percentage of adults being classified as mentally ill is exorbitant enough, let alone children who are going through stages in their lives where they’re simply developing, encountering mood swings, being disobedient, and perhaps, being — perish the thought! — normal children.

But let’s address something else here: I don’t think it’s impossible for children to suffer from mental illness but the incidence should be significantly lower.

According to Dr. Louis Kraus, the chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, suicide ranks as the sixth-leading cause of death among ages 5-14 — “although rare.” From ages 15-24, it jumps to number three.

The key word in that last paragraph is suicide is “rare.” The rate of mental illness in children should reflect that somehow. While I’m very happy SCHIP includes widespread mental health parity for low-income families, I’m also concerned children will be overdiagnosed with a “mental illness” when they may simply be dealing with the normal challenges of a difficult life.

“I used to care, but now I take a pill for that.” — Author unknown

Philip Dawdy at Furious Seasons has some great posts on the bipolar child paradigm that further explore the murky world of psychiatry pushing psychiatric illnesses and psychotropic drugs on kids. I’d also recommend reading Soulful Sepulcher as Stephany recounts her and her daughter’s experiences in and out of the mental health system.

(pic from save.org)

5 thoughts on “20% of American children suffer from mental illness

  1. “If you build it they will come.”
    Field Of Dreams
    No, you’re not being just cynical. What you’re not being is anywhere Near cynical enough.
    If you Fund it they Will be Diagnosed, ….. and drugged. The more Govt funding is provided for such programs, the more those programs will be staffed and run, by people who will obey Only the imperative to execute the program parameters in order to get paid.

    1. I know this is an old post, but I was doing research both for myself and for an assignment when I stumbled upon it. The most recent statistic that I have found besides this, is that 10% of children and adolescents in the US experience a significant impairment in their functioning (US Surgeon General 2000).

      What you are missing is the other statistic, the percentage who experience symptoms but are not being treated or diagnosed. According to The Great Smoky Mountains study, 28% of children with ADHD are not receiving medication.

      This broadening of health coverage allows people to pursue some kind of solution, when before they were stopped due to financial reasons. Medication isn’t the only option, and if a parent is looking for some magic pill from a doctor, then yes, the child will be drugged. And frankly, it’s the parents responsibility to inquire about other options besides medication, but this provides them with more tools to create a better life.

      1. Do note that the 28% not receiving medication is only for ADHD. That’s not including depression, bi-polar, anxiety, autism spectrum, etc..

  2. Twenty percent seems kind of high and I wonder what kind of criteria the child needs to meet to be considered mentally unwell. Chances are a lot of them are normal childhood behaviors that somehow become ADHD in front of the wrong doctor

  3. I really agree with this post. Millions of Americans suffer from a misdiagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness. Silver Hill Hospital has clinicians trained in evaluation, diagnosis and treatment and provides hope for people who may not have been getting the right care, with especially good adolescent residential programs.

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