WASHINGTON — Up to one in five American youngsters — some 7 million to 12 million by one estimate — experience a mental health disorder each year, according to a new report billed as the first comprehensive look at the mental health status of American children.
And the rate is increasing, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which produced the study, released yesterday.
Childhood mental disorders that alter the way children learn, behave and cope with their emotions affect 13 percent to 20 percent of youths under age 18, the CDC said. They also cost families and society at large an estimated $247 billion a year in treatment, special education, juvenile justice and decreased productivity, it stated.
While the prevalence, early onset and impact on society make childhood mental problems a major public health issue, only 21 percent of affected children actually get treatment because of a national shortage of pediatric subspecialists and child and adolescent psychiatrists, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
“Our current health care system does not meet the needs of these children,” Dr. Martin J. Drell, the group’s president, said last week in a statement about the problem.
Making matters worse, fewer medical students are specializing in children’s mental health careers, while the current crop of professionals are aging out of the workforce. The dearth of providers means troubled youngsters in underserved rural and urban areas are less likely to get timely care.
“Children with serious medical conditions should not have where they live determine what kind of health care services they receive,” said Dr. Thomas K. McInerny, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The new CDC report, “Mental Health Surveillance Among Children,” summarizes federal data and research from 2005 through 2011 to provide the agency’s first comprehensive snapshot of the nation’s emotionally troubled youth.