We have a children's mental health crisis in America.
About one third of children with mental health disorders see only their regular doctor for treatment. Family doctors often prescribe medications without consulting with a child psychiatrist. Children's doctors tend to prescribe medication more often than psychiatrists would (Anderson, Pediatrics, 2015). And doctors aren't trained to help families cope with mental health needs.
Delayed or poor treatment of early disorders can lead to problems later in life. Too often children and teens with untreated mental health issues turn to drugs and alcohol (Kessler, Biol Psychiatry, 2004). Without emotional skills and guidance, small problems get worse. Children and their families fall into crisis.
The Affordable Health Care Act says mental health treatment must be provided like all other health care. But there are only 8300 practicing child and teen psychiatrists, for over 15 million children who need their help. The greatest need is in poorer areas, both city and country, where heroin abuse is high, and income, education quality, and employment are desperately low.
Becoming a child psychiatrist requires years of school and training, and the income doesn't match that investment. But there are some solutions: Universities could help with more efficient training. Schools could create certificate training for pediatricians and family doctors. Outreach programs for families, children and teens could help parents find out if their child needs mental health care.
Improving service for children's mental health would help take a chunk out of drug abuse, mental health-related hospital stays, imprisonment, job issues and poverty in later life. But until we as Americans start to see how social problems come from mental health problems, until we see each child in our country as our own future, we're going to continue to see troubled children grow into lost adults. We're going continue to lose the future, a child at a time.