GAO report: Children’s mental health services are lacking

12 Jan

Moi wrote about troubled children in Schools have to deal with depressed and troubled children:

Both the culture and the economy are experiencing turmoil. For some communities, the unsettled environment is a new phenomenon, for other communities, children have been stressed for generations. According to the article, Understanding Depression which was posted at the Kids Health site:

Depression is the most common mental health problem in the United States. Each year it affects 17 million people of all age groups, races, and economic backgrounds.

As many as 1 in every 33 children may have depression; in teens, that number may be as high as 1 in 8.

Schools are developing strategies to deal with troubled kids….

One strategy in helping children to succeed is to recognize and treat depression.

How Common Is Depression In Children?      

According to Mary H. Sarafolean, PhD in the article, Depression In School Age Children and Adolescents

In general, depression affects a person’s physical,  cognitive, emotional/affective, and motivational well-being, no matter  their age. For example, a child with depression between the ages of 6 and 12 may exhibit fatigue, difficulty with schoolwork, apathy and/or a lack of motivation. An adolescent or teen may be oversleeping, socially isolated, acting out in self-destructive ways and/or have a sense of hopelessness.

Prevalence and Risk Factors

While only 2 percent of pre-teen school-age children and 3-5 percent of teenagers have clinical depression, it is the most common diagnosis of children in a clinical setting (40-50 percent of diagnoses). The lifetime risk  of depression in females is 10-25 percent and in males, 5-12 percent. Children and teens who are considered at high risk for depression disorders include:

* children referred to a mental health provider for school problems
* children with medical problems
* gay and lesbian adolescents
* rural vs. urban adolescents
* incarcerated adolescents
* pregnant adolescents
* children with a family history of depression    

If you or your child has one or more of the risk factors and your child is exhibiting symptoms of prolonged sadness, it might be wise to have your child evaluated for depression. 

How to Recognize Depression In Your Child?     

MedNet has an excellent article about Depression In Children and how to recognize signs of depression in your child.

Signs and symptoms of depression in children include:       

* Irritability or anger
* Continuous feelings of sadness, hopelessness
* Social withdrawal
* Increased sensitivity to rejection
* Changes in appetite — either increased or decreased
* Changes in sleep — sleeplessness or excessive sleep
* Vocal outbursts or crying
* Difficulty concentrating
* Fatigue and low energy
* Physical complaints (such as stomachaches, headaches) that do not respond to
* Reduced  ability to function during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, extracurricular activities, and in other hobbies or  interests

* Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
* Impaired thinking or concentration
* Thoughts of death or suicide        

Not all children have all of these symptoms. In fact, most will  display different symptoms at different times and in different settings.  Although some children may continue to function reasonably well in  structured environments, most kids with significant depression will  suffer a noticeable change in social activities, loss of interest in  school and poor academic performance, or a change in appearance.  Children may also begin using drugs or alcohol,
especially if they are  over the age of 12.

The best defense for parents is a good awareness of what is going on with their child. As a parent you need to know what is going on in your child’s world.

Joy Resmovits reported in the article, Mental Health Care For Kids Severely Lacking, Says GAO which was posted at Huffington Post:

“Most children whose emotions or behavior, as reported by their parent or guardian, indicated a potential need for a mental health service did not receive any services within the same year,” the GAO wrote.

The report comes after Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) requested that the GAO look into how psychotropic drugs affect the long-term development of kids who grow up in foster care. While the report is very specific in its scope, it’s sure to be a relevant piece of evidence as the Obama administration formulates policy to deal with the ramifications of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting. The shooting has sparked a nationwide debate on gun control, but it has also directed America’s attention to the state of its mental health care system.

Here are some findings:

  • On average, 6.2 percent of noninstitutionalized children in Medicaid and 4.8 percent of privately insured kids received psychotropic medications.

  • 30 percent of foster children who might have required mental health care didn’t receive them over the last year.

  • Most kids outside the foster care system whose behavior displayed red flags didn’t receive mental care services.

  • Many kids who got psychotropic medication didn’t get counseling or therapy to complete the care.

  • While the National Institutes of Health spent1.2 billion on children’s mental health care research between 2008 and 2011, most of the funding focused on research studying therapy, rather than the effects of such medication.

Here is the GAO press release:

What GAO Found

An annual average of 6.2 percent of noninstitutionalized children in Medicaid nationwide and 4.8 percent of privately insured children took one or more psychotropic medications, according to GAO’s analysis of 2007-2009 data from the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). MEPS data also showed that children in Medicaid took antipsychotic medications (a type of psychotropic medication that can help some children but has a risk of serious side effects) at a relatively low rate–1.3 percent of children–but that the rate for children in Medicaid was over twice the rate for privately insured children, which was 0.5 percent. In addition, MEPS data showed that most children whose emotions or behavior, as reported by their parent or guardian, indicated a potential need for a mental health service did not receive any services within the same year. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and many states have initiatives under way to help ensure that children receive appropriate mental health treatments. However, CMS’s ability to monitor children’s receipt of mental health services is limited because CMS does not collect information from states on whether children in Medicaid have received services for which they were referred. GAO recommended in 2011 that CMS identify options for collecting such data from state Medicaid programs. Findings in this report underscore the continued importance of CMS’s monitoring of children’s receipt of mental health services.

HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) reported that 18 percent of foster children were taking psychotropic medications at the time they were surveyed, although utilization varied widely by the child’s living arrangement. ACF also reported that 30 percent of foster children who may have needed mental health services did not receive them in the previous 12 months. HHS agencies are taking steps to promote appropriate mental health treatments for foster children, such as by sending information to states on psychotropic medication oversight practices.

HHS’s National Institutes of Health spent an estimated $1.2 billion on over 1,200 children’s mental health research projects during fiscal years 2008 through 2011. Most of the funding–$956 million–was awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health, with more research projects studying psychosocial therapies than psychotropic medications. Other HHS agencies spent about $16 million combined on children’s mental health research during this period.

HHS reviewed a draft of this report and provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate.

Why GAO Did This Study

Experts have concerns that children with mental health conditions do not always receive appropriate treatment, including concerns about appropriate use of psychotropic medications (which affect mood, thought, or behavior) and about access to psychosocial therapies (sessions with a mental health provider). These concerns may be compounded for low-income children in Medicaid and children in foster care (most of whom are covered by Medicaid)–populations who may be at higher risk of mental health conditions. Within HHS, CMS oversees Medicaid, and ACF supports state child welfare agencies that coordinate health care for foster children.

GAO was asked to provide information on children’s mental health. This report examines (1) the use of psychotropic medications and other mental health services for children in Medicaid nationwide, and related CMS initiatives; (2) HHS information on the use of psychotropic medications and other mental health services for children in foster care nationwide, and related HHS initiatives; and (3) the amount HHS has invested in research on children’s mental health.

GAO analyzed data from HHS’s MEPS –a national household survey on use of medical services–from 2007 through 2009 for children covered by Medicaid and private insurance. GAO reviewed two recent ACF foster care reports with data from a national survey conducted during 2008 through 2011. GAO analyzed data from HHS agencies that conduct or fund research and interviewed HHS officials and children’s mental health providers, researchers, and advocates.

For more information, contact Katherine Iritani at (202) 512-7114 or

Concerns Remain about Appropriate Services for Children in Medicaid and Foster Care GAO-13-15, Dec 10, 2012

If you or your child needs help for depression or another illness, then go to a reputable medical provider. There is nothing wrong with taking the steps necessary to get well.


Counselors, School Support Staff Toil Amid Scant Resources

About.Com’s Depression In Young Children

  1. Psych Central’s Depression In Young Children
  2. Psychiatric News’ Study Helps Pinpoint Children With Depression
  3. Family Doctor’s What Is Depression?
  4. WebMD’s Depression In Children
  5. Healthline’s Is Your Child Depressed?
  6. Medicine.Net’s Depression In Children
Where information leads to Hope. ©                 Dr.

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