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While mental health disorders affect one in ten children nationally, one in five low-income children suffers from such disorders. However, children rarely receive the care they need for mental health disorders, hurting their education, increasing the risk of suicide, and raising health care costs for all Americans.
Sound mental health is important for all children to develop and grow into healthy adults, and unmet mental needs can have harmful — and expensive — long-term consequences. Children with mental health disorders are more likely to have problems in school, experience chronic absenteeism, receive poor grades, drop out of school and be suspended or expelled. Minority children and children in the welfare system are the least likely to receive treatment, and often find themselves funneled into the juvenile justice system as a result. Mental health problems affect almost 70 percent of youth in the juvenile detention system.
Comprehensive health coverage that includes access to mental health services is essential to a child’s health and development. Early and comprehensive screenings for mental health disorders increase the chances that children are properly diagnosed and receive the necessary treatment. Treating mental health problems earlier reduces their severity and the impact they have on a child’s future, bettering the chances of a good education and healthy lifestyle. Additionally, early screening and intervention are far more cost effective for the entire health care system, costing just a fraction of what residential care, emergency room visits and juvenile detention do. It is also critically important, however, that there is a full range of treatment and support to address comprehensively the current mental health needs of older children and youths.
Download CDF’s fact sheet on Mental Health. (.pdf, 105 KB)