Making Sure Children Get the Mental Health Care They Need
Learn about innovative solutions that connect families to mental health care.
Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. children have a mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and Tourette syndrome. Early diagnosis and treatment are very helpful for these children, but some families may have trouble reaching a provider of mental health care.
Problems Accessing Mental Health Care
Some families of children with these disorders may struggle to get care:
- Shortages of child psychiatrists, psychologists, and behavior therapists may cause some families to be on waiting lists to see a provider.
- Other families may not have a mental health provider in the vicinity and may not be able to travel long distances to visit one.
When families are unable to see a mental health provider, their child’s pediatrician or family doctor may sometimes diagnose and treat the child’s disorder. But only about 1 in 3 pediatricians report that they have enough training to diagnose and treat children with mental disorders.
Improving Access to Mental Health Care
To help solve these shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and our partners are exploring promising practices to help connect children and their families to mental health care. These include telemedicine, efforts to build partnerships between mental health care and primary medical care, and school-based care.
Telemedicine uses phone, video conferencing, and internet technology to provide health care from a distance. For families of children who cannot otherwise reach a mental health provider, technology can connect parents and children to the help they need.
Partnerships between Mental Health Care and Primary Medical Care
Mental health and primary medical care providers can work together to include mental and behavioral health screening and treatment into primary medical care, which is known as “behavioral health integration.” These efforts can include the following:
- Behavioral health specialists practicing on-site in primary medical care offices.
- Using technology to deliver training in mental health care and consultation to primary medical care providers, resulting in improved referrals and communication.
Schools can be a convenient setting for children and families to access health care, especially in rural or isolated areas. School-based mental health care can include screening, treatment, and medication monitoring.
What is CDC Doing?
CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is committed to helping children who have mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Through research and resources, NCBDDD helps families of these children get the support they need. We study mental and developmental disorders, identify factors that put children at risk for these conditions, and share that research with state and local decision-makers and medical professionals.
CDC has created the following resources that describe problems with access to mental health care for children and promising practices to improve access:
- A CDC policy report Cdc-pdf[1.11 MB] that presents promising practices for delivering mental health care in rural areas.
- A CDC-sponsored report published by the Milbank Memorial FundExternal that describes approaches to better connect behavioral health professionals with primary medical care practitioners.
- CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) rural health special issue, “Differences in Health Care, Family, and Community Factors Associated with Mental, Behavioral, and Developmental Disorders among Children Aged 2-8 Years in Rural and Urban Areas – United States, 2011-2012” and the associated New England Journal of Medicine commentaryExternal that highlights systems solutions that address differences in access to mental health treatment for those living in rural areas compared with those in urban areas.
- State maps showing the number of U.S. mental health providers per 10,000 children by county
By exploring innovative ways to deliver mental health care, we can help children with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and their families. State and local decision-makers, mental health and primary medical care providers, and schools can work together to support promising practices and identify new approaches that improve access to mental health care for children.