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)