June 16, 2019/Children's Health

If Your Child Has a Mental Health Disorder, the Most Important Thing You Can Do Is Seek Help

Study finds childhood mental health disorders are common, but largely untreated

Mother holding depressed daughter

Treatable childhood mental health disorders, such as anxiety, depression and ADHD, can have lasting effects into adulthood if not recognized and addressed early.

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However, a recent study shows many children with these conditions don’t receive appropriate treatment.

The study looked at parents whose children had a mental health condition (either currently or in the last year) and asked if the child had been treated by a professional. The study didn’t ask if the child was in long-term treatment ― just had the child ever been seen by a mental health professional before. And the answer was strikingly ‘no’ or ‘not very often.’

Pediatric psychologist, Vanessa Jensen, PsyD, did not take part in the study, but says the results are quite astounding.

By the numbers

The study looked at data on more than 46 million U.S. children.

Results show 7.7 million children had at least one treatable mental health disorder ― including anxiety, depression or ADHD.

However, almost half of these children did not receive needed treatment, such as counseling or medication.

The issues with finding help

Dr. Jensen says often times there are numerous barriers for families seeking mental health care for their children. Many don’t get the help they need due to lack of resources ― which can vary from state to state.

In addition to fewer available professionals who specialize in childhood mental health, some healthcare plans may not provide mental health coverage, or have high out-of-pocket costs. These expenses can keep families from bringing their children in.

And some families may not even know where to begin.

“Parents who suspect their child may have a mental health disorder should start by talking with their child’s pediatrician,” says Dr. Jensen. “ADHD, anxiety, depression and related disorders are very treatable. Most of the time, with appropriate treatment, kids can go on to function quite well.”

Childhood mental health treatment can include:

  • Psychotherapy.
  • Helping parents learn to manage things differently.
  • Making adjustments in school programs.
  • Medication.
  • A combination of therapies.

“Much like physical conditions like asthma and diabetes, children with mental health disorders can learn to recognize signs of trouble,” she says.

By working with a mental health professional, children can learn skills early on to help them recognize feelings that require self-management or the need for professional help.

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