Seamless access to mental health services for children is essential, but too often not available. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, fewer than 20 percent of children who need it receive mental health treatment for emotional disorders which include depression and anxiety.
Children from homeless and underserved families suffer from a higher incidence of emotional disorders than the general population. Undiagnosed and undertreated mental health disorders such as depression strain a family's ability to handle the complex and sustained needs of children with chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.
Only recently has the issue of mental health parity, equal coverage for mental health conditions as physical health conditions, been addressed. In 2006, New York joined 45 other states to pass a mental health parity bill, Timothy’s Law. Federal mental health parity was adopted late in 2008. This federal mental health law requires health insurance plans that offer mental health coverage to provide the same financial and treatment coverage offered for other physical illnesses. It does not mandate that group insurance plans provide mental health coverage.
This is just a first step. There is a persistent lack of pediatric mental health professionals across the country and increasing need. To address disparate numbers of mental health professionals in underserved areas, Children's Health Fund supports initiatives to increase reimbursement rates and provide scholarship programs to attract mental health professionals to underserved areas.