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How parents and teens address mental health concerns

Mental health concerns for children have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic. A new poll asked parents about their experiences with their teenager’s mental health.

In October 2021, a national state of emergency in children’s mental health was declared by several pediatric organizations. The crisis has prompted a number of studies and surveys, including the latest poll from the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In the poll, 1201 parents of children aged 11 to 18 years were asked about their experiences with care and screening for mental health issues.1

Nearly all of the parents said that they felt either somewhat or very confident that they would be able to recognize a mental health issue in their teenager. Signs that would indicate a potential problem included decreased interaction with family (63%), a change in sleep patterns (53%), a drop in grades (61%), frequent mention of being worried or anxious (65%), and a change in eating habits (49%).

When a potential mental health issue was noted, many parents said that their initial response would be to either have a talk with their teenager (82%) or keep a closer eye on them going forward (55%). Less common first responses included making an appointment with the child’s health care provider (43%), consulting with their teenager’s teachers to ask about problems at school (25%), or asking family or friends for advice (13%).

Many parents were confident that their child would either definitely (25%) or possibly (55%) discuss a potential mental health concern with them. They also reported that their teenager’s primary care provider asked about mental health at every (41%) or some (22%) of their visits. However, 14% said that their teenager was never asked; 19% were unsure if their teenager was asked; and 4% did not attend visits with their child. Many felt that their adolescent would definitely (16%) or probably (57%) feel able to comfortably discuss any mental health concerns. Furthermore, 1 in 3 parents said that their child had been asked to complete a mental health screening questionnaire.

The poll then delved into accessing mental health care, with only 27% of parents stating that their teenager had had at least 1 appointment with a mental health profession. Of the teenagers who had a visit, 59% of those visits had happened in the past year. The decision to have the child visit a mental health specialist was more likely to be because of the parent’s own decision (55%) than because of referrals from the adolescent’s clinician (18%) or school (11%). Getting the care was described as difficult by nearly half of the parents, with many citing long waits for available appointments (26%), not knowing where to go (10%), and struggling to find a provider who either took the family’s insurance (15%) or saw pediatric patients (13%).

Reference

1. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. National Poll on Children's Health: Parent views on addressing mental health concerns in adolescents. 2022;40(4). Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/parent-views-addressing-mental-health-concerns-adolescents. Published March 21, 2022. Accessed March 22, 2022.