Disparities in Mental Health Access for Teens Remain

Although teenagers have greater access to mental healthcare compared with 2 years ago, there remain racial and ethnic inequalities, according a survey from the University of Michigan National Voices Project.

Although teenagers have greater access to mental healthcare compared with 2 years ago, there remain racial and ethnic inequalities, according a survey from the University of Michigan National Voices Project.

The Project surveys more than 2000 adults in the US who work on behalf of children and teens. According to the 2014 survey, 40% of adults said teenagers in their communities had a lot of availability for mental healthcare compared with 30% in 2012. However, more than half (59%) said teenagers had a lot of availability for primary care services.

“Access to mental healthcare for teens remains a problem,” Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, director of the National Voices Project and professor of pediatrics, internal medicine, public policy, and health management and policy at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “The good news is that adults are seeing improvements in access for teens in their communities in comparison with 2012. However, the bad news is that they are still seeing significant disparities in healthcare access for teens in communities where they perceive racial and ethnic inequities.”

In communities where respondents perceived some or many racial/ethnic inequities, just 35% of adults saw good access to mental healthcare for teenagers, up from 24% in 2012. Meanwhile, 54% of adults who perceived few or no inequities in their communities reported good access to mental healthcare, up from 39% in 2012.

There remains a social stigma around mental health disorders and mental healthcare that could restrict access to care. In the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, which Dr Davis was also involved in, parents are reluctant to discuss their children’s behavioral and emotional concerns with doctors.

“Many children experience challenges with behavior, emotions or learning,” Sarah J. Clark, M.P.H., associate director of the National Poll on Children’s Health and associate research scientist in the University of Michigan Department of Pediatrics, said in a statement. “The key is for parents to recognize their children’s behavior patterns and share that information with the doctor. Unfortunately, our findings suggest that parents don’t understand their role in supporting their children’s behavioral health.”

According to HHS, less than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders received treatment in the last year. Adolescents who are homeless; served by state child welfare and juvenile justice systems; and are lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender are the least likely to receive mental health services.