Skip to navigation menu Skip to content
Please click here to read our COVID-19 policies and resources before your visit or appointment. X
Jump to:  A   |   B   |   C   |   D   |   E   |   F   |   G   |   H   |   I   |   J   |   K   |   L   |   M   |   N   |   O   |   P   |   Q   |   R   |   S   |   T   |   U   |   V   |   W   |   X   |   Y

Why Are Half of U.S. Kids With Mental Health Issues Not Getting Treatment?

Why Are Half of U.S. Kids With Mental Health Issues Not Getting Treatment?

MONDAY, March 29, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Over half of high-risk children in the United States are not receiving behavioral health services critical to their mental, emotional and physical well-being, new research warns.

"It's a pretty simple and kind of widely agreed upon finding that there are a lot of at-risk kids, when you look at it in terms of adversities or symptoms, who aren't getting mental health services, behavioral health services, that would be of benefit to them," said study co-author David Finkelhor. He directs the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center.

Lack of treatment for kids who struggle with depression, anxiety and/or several adverse childhood experiences is more severe among children of parents with only high school-level educations and children of color, with Black kids found to be the least likely to have access to behavioral health services.

"The implication is, we should really be doing a lot more to try and facilitate services for this segment of the population," said Finkelhor.

A noteworthy outlier in the study: High-risk children with nontraditional family structures were far more likely than their counterparts to have received mental health services.

For the study, the researchers examined the results from three national surveys of children's exposure to violence, which included nearly 12,000 kids aged 10 to 17 and caregivers of children aged 2 to 9. The team found that between 41% and 63% of high-risk youths surveyed went without any professional help.

The report was published online recently in JAMA Network Open.

This dearth of services can impact children long term, said Dr. Tarik Hadzic, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist in Los Angeles, who was not involved with the study.

"These are little kids. Half of this group [aged] 2 to 9 was ages 2 to 5," said Hadzic. "These are paramount times in the development of a child's brain, when an early intervention can have huge positive effects on appearance of both [mental health issues and adverse childhood experiences]. You can affect both mental and physical conditions later, because kids with untreated mental health conditions will go on to have more problems as adults."

In addition, he noted, nearly two-thirds of youths aged 10 to 17 with mental health issues and adverse childhood experiences didn't receive care, which can lead to other negative outcomes.

"That's really troubling as well," Hadzic said. "This includes adolescence, especially later adolescence, when they are more likely to be liable criminally for offenses, and more likely to engage in suicidal behavior, for example, leading to death. That's completely preventable. They're not being identified. I don't see them."

Missed diagnoses of conditions in kids of color is one issue, which was evident in another study published recently in JAMA Network Open. It showed disparities in the identification and treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in Asian, Black and Hispanic children. Lack of resources in lower-income communities, prior negative experiences with medical professionals, and historical malpractice against people of color are also factors.

To make matters worse, the surveys examined for the latest research were completed in 2008, 2011 and 2014. By several metrics, the COVID-19 pandemic period has been extremely difficult for children, and high-risk kids are likely bearing the brunt of the trauma.

"In my practice, I'm seeing far more kids and adolescents with worsening depression," Hadzic said. "Isolation is clearly a risk factor for depression. And now we have this, you know, rightfully-so instituted isolation because of the deadly pandemic, but a lot of kids are just basically cut off. And they're not finding digital interactions nearly as meaningful with their friends. So I do think that the pandemic is definitely making universal screening far more difficult. It's making identification of kids with [adverse childhood] events more difficult."

If professionals become more agile at identifying at-risk children, treatment can help affected kids considerably. Finkelhor and his colleagues have laid out suggestions on how to expand needed clinical contact.

"We need to train more people to provide these kinds of services," said Finkelhor. "We need to provide them in more convenient locations, like schools, and in conjunction with medical practices. We need to package them to make them a little bit less stigmatizing. We need to advertise some of the new procedures and techniques that we have. We need to make sure that the new and particularly the evidence-based services that are most effective are the ones that are being provided, and that everybody is trained up in them."

Finkelhor also advocated for the use of the arts and exercise to help children deal with depression, anxiety and trauma.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on mental health in children.

SOURCES: David Finkelhor, PhD, professor, sociology, and director, Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.; Tarik Hadzic, MD, PhD, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist, Los Angeles; JAMA Network Open, March 15, 2021, online

Reviewed Date: --

Find a pediatrician
Childrens Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
Dr. James Bennett
Dr. J. Marc Cardelia
Dr. Peter Moskal
Dr. Cara Novick
Dr. Stephanie Pearce
Dr. Carl St. Remy
Sports Medicine
Dr. Joel Brenner
Dr. Aisha Joyce
Dr. Micah Lamb
Dr. David Smith
Dr. Sarah Chagnon
Dr. Wendy Edlund
Dr. Ralph Northam
Dr. Crystal Proud
Dr. Svinder Toor
Dr. Ryan Williams
Health Tips
Helping Kids Get Over their Fears
Is It Time for Toilet Training?
Keep Kids Safe During Yard Work
Reading to Kids Helps Their Development
Sports and Music: Both Good for Kids
Weight Room No Longer Off-Limits to Kids
When Can a Child Wear Contact Lenses
Child Development Quiz
Teen Health Quiz
Strategies to Prevent Depression, No Matter Your Age
Diseases & Conditions
Adolescent (13 to 18 Years)
Amenorrhea in Teens
Anatomy of a Child's Brain
Anatomy of the Endocrine System in Children
Anxiety Disorders in Children
Asthma in Children Index
Becker Muscular Dystrophy (BMD) in Children
Bone Marrow Transplant for Children
Brain Tumors in Children
Breast Conditions in Young Women
Chemotherapy for Children: Side Effects
Cuts and Wounds of the External Ear
Cuts and Wounds of the Mouth and Lips
Ewing Sarcoma in Children
Female Growth and Development
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) in Children and Teens
Gynecological and Menstrual Conditions
Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) in Children
High Blood Pressure in Children and Teens
Home Page - Adolescent Medicine
Inflammatory and Infectious Musculoskeletal Disorders
Inflammatory and Infectious Neurological Disorders
Inguinal Hernia in Children
Insect Bites and Children
Kidney Transplantation in Children
Major Depression in Teens
Meningitis in Children
Menstrual Cramps (Dysmenorrhea) in Teens
Menstrual Disorders
Minor Injuries Overview
Mood Disorders in Children and Adolescents
Muscle and Joint Injuries
Myasthenia Gravis (MG) in Children
Oral Health
Osteosarcoma (Osteogenic Sarcoma) in Children
Pap Test for Adolescents
Pediatric Blood Disorders
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Children
Preparing the School-Aged Child for Surgery
Schizophrenia in Children
School-Aged Child Nutrition
Skin Injury in Children
Sports Safety for Children
Superficial Injuries of the Face and Head- Overview
Teens and Diabetes Mellitus
Television and Children
The Growing Child- Teenager (13 to 18 Years)
The Growing Child: 1 to 3 Months
The Growing Child: 10 to 12 Months
The Growing Child: 1-Year-Olds
The Growing Child: 2-Year-Olds
The Growing Child: 4 to 6 Months
The Growing Child: 7 to 9 Months
The Growing Child: Newborn
The Growing Child: Preschool (4 to 5 Years)
The Growing Child: School-Age (6 to 12 Years)
The Heart
The Kidneys
Your Child's Asthma
Your Child's Asthma: Flare-ups

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.