Children's mental health diagnoses continue to skyrocket nationwide

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Hospital visits related to mental health issues have increased dramatically over the last several years

As the conversation around mental health gains ground in the United States, it’s more important than ever to check in with the people in your life -- especially children.

A group of researchers recently presented a study at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition that explored the record high numbers of children in the United States suffering from mental health disorders -- particularly those in low-income neighborhoods. According to the researchers, mental health issues have become one of the most common pediatric illnesses, as over 17 million children are affected.

“Access to mental health services among children can be difficult, and data suggest that it can be even more challenging for minority children compared with non-minority youths,” said Monika K. Goyal. “Our findings underscore the importance of improving access to outpatient mental health resources as well as expanding capacity within the nation’s emergency departments to respond to this unmet need.”  

Dramatic increase in mental health cases

The researchers investigated records from 45 hospitals across the country -- with anonymous information -- to better understand how mental health is on the rise among the country’s youth.

Between 2012 and 2016, nearly 294,000 children received a mental health diagnosis. Over 50 percent were covered by public health insurance, and the average age was approximately 13 years old. Moreover, for every 100,000 children diagnosed, over 51 were non-Latino white children, and over 78 were non-Latino black children.

“When stratified by race and ethnicity, mental-health related visits to the nation’s emergency departments rose for non-Latino black children and adolescents at almost double the rate seen for non-Latino white children and adolescents,” said Dr. Goyal.

The researchers also found that two to five percent of all children’s emergency room visits were due to mental health concerns. The number of children going to the emergency room for mental health-related issues went up nearly 30 percent between 2012 and 2016. In 2012, the figure was at just over 50 percent, and by 2016 the number had increased to nearly 80 percent.

Overall, Dr. Goyal believes that better care is needed for children’s mental health needs -- particularly at hospitals across the country.

“These children come to our emergency departments in crisis, and across the nation, children’s hospitals need to expand mental health resources to better serve these vulnerable patients,” Dr. Goyal said.

Ways to help

While every mental health disorder is different, and treatment methods are even more different, there are some ways to support children that are struggling with mental health issues.

For anxiety sufferers, researchers have found that lack of sleep, smartphones, and the holidays are all contributing factors to increased anxiety. Though some kids tend to keep mental health concerns to themselves, experts suggest normalizing their feelings. Educating them about physical symptoms can help to reduce anxiety.

Additionally, physical exercise has been found to help with a variety of mental health issues, including both anxiety and depression. Allowing kids the time and space to run around has been linked to improved mental health.

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