More than 4 million children and adolescents have a mental illness, and this number is on the rise, according to a recent study. Hospitalization rates for mental illness among this population have risen. A dedicated medicine specialty, child and adolescent psychiatry is a specialized field that focuses on the mental health among the pediatric population. Regardless of the funding, specialists and innovative treatment modalities, this crisis is not yet contained and is mainly due to the relentless stigma associated with mental illness. Childhood asthma and childhood depression should be viewed as the same type of illness, but instead the stigma of mental illness creates a barrier to treatment.
Prevalence of youth hospitalization due to mental illness
Studies have shown that 1 in 10 hospitalized children have a primary diagnosis of a mental health condition, the most common being depression, bipolar disease and psychosis. Childhood mental disorders can create havoc in children’s lives. These children can struggle with forming friendships, low academic performance and, if left untreated, their mental illness can progress into adulthood resulting in problems in the work environment or with romantic relationships. The consequences can be life threatening, as suicide rates have increased among people who have untreated mental illness.
For all medical problems, especially mental illness, diagnosis and treatment require medical insurance, an expensive commodity that not everyone can afford in the United States. Because the recorded statistics are taken from patients who have been diagnosed by a clinician, the recorded statistics for mental illness in children are most likely lower than the actual levels. The individuals left undiagnosed due to either a lack of insurance or the fear associated with stigma are not recorded in the statistics.
Causes for increased hospitalization rates
The many reasons as to why pediatric hospitalization rates are increasing secondary to mental illness include unstable homes, increasing divorce rates, bullying, increased social media and Internet usage, and substance abuse. With the recent technological advances, bullying has been taken to a whole new level with Internet bullying. These underlying reasons and the chronic stigma associated with mental illness have pediatric hospital admission rates on the rise.
These hospitalizations are not cheap either. According to the same study, “hospitals charge nearly as much for treating children who are hospitalized for depression — about $1.33 billion per year — as they do for the inpatient care of children with asthma — about $1.5 billion.” This statistic is impressive given that the workup for a mental illness involves fewer diagnostic techniques than the workup for asthma. An average asthma exacerbation requires a chest X-ray, oxygen therapy and at least two to three different types of medications.
Mental illness conditions are diagnosed via a thorough history and multiple questionnaires. Although treatment modalities are difficult, most treatment is managed on an outpatient basis, as it can takes weeks or even months to find the perfect treatment regimen. This study also found that the majority of patients who are diagnosed and hospitalized with a mental illness are usually white, male and have health insurance. Children and adolescents with mental health conditions often have substance abuse issues as well.
This increase in hospitalization rates among adolescents can be viewed in two ways: A positive viewpoint demonstrates that more children and adolescents are now seeking treatment for mental illness. On the other hand, it brings up the question as to why pediatricians are not screening, diagnosing or referring these children during outpatient treatment to prevent hospitalization. Children visit their primary care physician usually more often than adults do. Vaccinations, school physicals and annual examinations are common in this population. It is imperative that children and adolescents be screened for mental health disorders at these visits to obtain an early diagnosis, seek treatment and prevent hospitalizations.
The Sovereign Health Group is a leading behavioral health treatment provider with locations across the United States. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego treats adolescents with addiction, mental health disorders including eating disorders, and co-occurring conditions. For more information about our programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a senior staff writer at the Sovereign Health Group and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of medicine. She is a physician and author, who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is also an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.