Surgeon General: Children’s Mental Health
Because one of every 10 children in the United States suffers some form of mental illness—yet only one-fifth receive medical care for their conditions—a report by the U.S. surgeon general is prodding the nation to confront this mental-health “crisis” before it gets worse.
“This report provides a blueprint for change,” the surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher, said in a prepared statement. “The burden of suffering by children with mental-health needs and their families has created a health crisis in this country. Growing numbers of children are suffering needlessly because their emotional, behavioral, and developmental needs are not being met by the very institutions and systems that were created to take care of them.”
Released in January, the surgeon general’s report, “National Action Agenda on Children’s Mental Health,” identifies several goals, including promoting public awareness of children’s mental-health issues, reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, and improving the assessment of children with mental-health needs.
The agenda marks the culmination of a series of activities over the past year, including the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health in September. The conference brought together 300 participants with interests in mental health, including parents and children, as well as professionals.
But improving the lives of children with mental-health problems will not be easy, said Dr. Real Muto, a member of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. He said children’s advocates and caregivers are already aware of the issues in the surgeon general’s report, but they lack the political strength to effect real change.
Ted Feinberg, the assistant executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists and a participant at the September conference, believes that lack of understanding is a barrier to political interest or action.
He also believes school systems need to do a better job of training educators to understand how mental health is linked to physical health and academic achievement.
The Cost of ADHD: Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to use medical services and to incur greater medical costs than children without ADHD Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are more likely to use medical services and to incur greater medical costs than children without ADHD, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The study, which followed 4,880 Rochester-area children for nine years, compared differences in medical treatment and costs for children with and without ADHD.
Between 1987 and 1995, the study found, children with the disorder were more likely to suffer major physical injuries (59 percent vs. 49 percent) and to have asthma (22 percent vs. 13 percent) than those without it. As a consequence, higher percentages of children with ADHD—26 percent, compared with 18 percent of children without the disorder—received hospital inpatient, outpatient, or emergency treatment.
What’s more, the study found, health-care costs for ADHD children were more than double those of children without the disorder—an average of $4,306 for ADHD children and $1,944 for non-ADHD children—for the nine years the children were followed.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder interferes with a person’s ability to regulate activity level, behavior, and attention to tasks, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The institute says ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed childhood disorder; it estimates that 3 percent to 5 percent of children in the United States have it.
The Mayo Clinic study, published in the January 3 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, used records from the clinic, the Olmsted Medical Center, and Minnesota’s Independent School District 535 in Rochester to compile its results.
Slicing the Fat: School meals are now leaner and healthier, according to a U. S. Department of Agriculture report. From 1992 to 1999, the percentage of schools offering federally subsidized lunches that followed government nutrition guidelines for fat content improved from 34 to 82 percent of elementary schools and from 71 percent to 91 percent of secondary schools, according to “The School Nutrition Dietary Assessment-II,” which was released Jan. 10.
According to the report, the overall fat levels in school lunches dropped from 38 percent in 1992 to 34 percent in 1999.
—Vanessa Dea & Lisa Fine
A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2001 edition of Education Week as Health Update