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Access to Mental Health Care for Teens Improving, but Less for Communities with Disparities

Teens in the U.S. have more availability of mental health care than they did two years ago, according to a survey from the University of Michigan National Voices Project, but access is not equal in all communities.

The University of Michigan National Voices Project was commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to facilitate a five-year study to gauge opportunities for children and teens at the local level in communities across the U.S. The National Voices Project surveys more than 2,000 adults across the U.S. who work and/or volunteer on behalf of children and teens.

In a 2014 National Voices Project survey, 40% of adults said teens in their communities had a lot of availability for mental health care. In a 2012 survey, only 30% of adults reported a lot of availability. In comparison, 59% of adults in 2014 said that teens had a lot of availability for primary care.

Adults’ perceptions of health care availability were much different in communities where respondents perceived some or many racial/ethnic inequities. In these communities, just 35% of adults saw a lot of availability for teens to get mental health care in 2014, up from 24% in 2012.

For the communities with few or no racial/ethnic inequities, 54% of adults perceived a lot of availability for mental health care for teens, an improvement from 39% in 2012.

“Access to mental health care for teens remains a problem,” says 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.

“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 health care access for teens in communities where they perceive racial and ethnic inequities,” he says.

“Furthermore, mental health services are perceived as much less available than primary health care services for teens,” adds Davis, who is also deputy director of the UM Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. “Given how common mental health concerns are among adolescents, improving access to behavioral services is as important as enhancing access to primary care.”

Mental health services for children are also the subject of May’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. The poll, also directed by Davis, surveyed parents across the U.S. and found that many were reluctant to discuss their children’s behavioral and emotional concerns with their doctors. Both surveys, released during Mental Health Awareness Month in May, highlight the continued need to improve mental health care for young people in the U.S.

These data are part of the sixth survey from the National Voices Project, conducted in September-October 2014.

--Source: University of Michigan Health System