Overcoming Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Care for Children - On Second Thought: from Iffy to Witty Thoughts
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Overcoming Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Care for Children

Overcoming Barriers to Accessing Mental Health Care for Children

In April of this year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) published a large compilation of research and resources addressing barriers in access to essential mental health care for children.  The CDC cites that nearly one in five children experiences symptoms of an emotional or behavioral disorder, however that only about 20% of these children get the mental health assessment and treatment they need.  A shocking statistic from the World Health Organization (WHO) identifies that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the prevalence of depression and anxiety worldwide by 25%, and that young people are disproportionately impacted, with increased risk of self-harm and suicide.

We know that early detection and intervention promotes long term success in being able to manage these symptoms throughout life. This prompts a call-to-action for parents, educators and our communities as a whole to respond to barriers to accessing mental health care.  The CDC outlines numerous factors that play into this lack of care, including a lack of qualified providers to meet the unique needs of children, poor insurance coverage for behavioral healthcare, and a lack of identification of the signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Among these barriers to lack of access to care, there is considerable concern around the Social Determinants of Health and how these impact access.  Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) are defined by the CDC as “conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play that affect a wide range of health and quality-of life-risks and outcomes.”  Many SDoH play a role in the ease of access to services for family.  For example, family income, a lack of transportation, insurance status can all impact the likelihood a child will be identified in need and then access these essential services.

Among these barriers created by SDoH is geographic location, such as living in a rural community.   Not only are there limited mental health services in these rural communities, prompting long travel time to gain access to counseling services, but these communities also often have fewer healthy outlets such as parks and libraries.  Parents may be limited in accessing these services, merely due to physical residence and the barriers created in by physically traveling to a clinic or provider.

Despite these challenges, numerous benefits in promoting access to care developed through the crisis created by the social distancing practices during COVID-19.  This included increased use of telemental health services and increased use of online resources designed for children to promote emotional wellness.  If parents are not able to physically access these services to support their children’s emotional wellness, there is improved access through these virtual resources.  Virtual platforms such as On Second Thought can offer valuable skills and techniques for children, families, and educators to address this wave of mental health needs.