Quick Take: US National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children

The impact of a child’s mental health on individual and socioeconomic factors, and ultimately, transition to adulthood, is becoming increasingly more recognized. As such, with an increasing incidence of mental health disorders amongst children, numerous initiatives have emerged with the aim of identifying priority focus areas regarding mental health-related burden; this includes reducing disparities for mental healthcare use. In this retrospective cohort study, data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health was used to estimate the prevalence of treatable mental health disorders and mental healthcare use in children. An estimated 46.6 million children were included for the analysis. Researchers found that the national prevalence of at least 1 mental health disorder as 16.5% (weighted estimate, 7.7 million). After adjustment, all covariates, except for continuous insurance were found to be associated with mental health disorders. These covariates included ages 12-17 years (OR 1.65, 95% CI 1.44 to 1.89), male sex (OR 1.31, 95% CI 1.14 to 1.49), Non-Hispanic white ethnicity (OR 1.90, 95% CI 1.51 to 2.39), poverty status, single parent (OR 1.40, 95% CI 1.19 to 1.65), and a lack of a medical home (OR 1.31, 95% CI 1.15 to 1.49). The national prevalence of children with a mental health disorder who did not receive needed treatment or counseling from a mental health professional was 49.4%, ranging from 29.5% (Washington, DC) to 72.2% (North Carolina). This study therefore shows that nearly half of the estimated 7.7 million children in the US with a treatable mental health disorder did not receive needed treatment from a mental health professional, with considerable variability between states. This has important implications for state-level practices and policies impacting access to these needed healthcare services.

Click to read the study in JAMA Pediatrics

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