Well-Being Mental Health

A quarter of parents say their child has seen a mental health specialist during pandemic: poll

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Story at a glance

  • The findings are based on a nationally representative report from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health alongside the Children’s Hospital Association.
  • The poll included 1,201 parents of children ages 11-18 surveyed in October 2021.
  • A coalition of pediatric care groups declared children’s mental health a public health crisis last fall.

More than a quarter of U.S. parents said their child has seen a mental health specialist over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 60 percent of visits taking place in the past year, according to a recent survey.  

The findings are based on a on a nationally representative report from the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health alongside the Children’s Hospital Association, derived from survey responses of 1,201 parents of children ages 11-18 surveyed in October 2021. 

A coalition of pediatric care groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association, declared children’s mental health a public health crisis last fall.  

The group drew their conclusion from data collected between March and October 2020 which showed emergency room visits for mental health emergencies among children ages 5-11 increased by 24 percent and by 31 percent for children ages 12-17. 

But Mott Poll co-director and pediatrician Gary L. Freed said rising mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety, predated the pandemic.  

“The pandemic caused significant stress and social disruption for kids that likely exacerbated these problems, as we’re seeing a growing number of young people face mental health concerns,” Freed said in a news release. “This places a heavier burden on parents, health providers and other trusted adults in their lives to be aware of potential warning signs.” 

About a third of parents surveyed said their child took a mental health screening during a regular office visit, while just 4 in 10 said their child was asked about their mental well-being.  

Freed added that regular office visits provide the perfect time for a health care provider to discuss mental health concerns, noting parents should address the issue with a provider if a check-up does not include questions about their child’s mental well-being. Additionally, the adolescent patient should feel comfortable bringing up these issues with their provider, Freed said.  

Yet there might be issues with an adolescent freely discussing concerns with a provider, and only around 25 percent of parents felt confident their child would speak up about their worries.  

Adolescents might also benefit from feeling they are able to speak with a parent prior to a visit by listening to their child’s potential concerns without judgement and providing encouragement.  

“It may also be helpful for parents to share any of their own experiences with mental health challenge,” Freed said, adding that adolescent patients should “understand that their doctor is there to help and that they should be as honest as possible about any physical or mental health problems.” 


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Identifying the warning signs of mental health issues, too, could aid in treatment of the issues. Researchers noted parents should watch for a difference between regular changes in behavior and watch out for some more serious indications of possible mental health issues, including changes in appetite, sleep and an unexpected drop in grades at school.  

“Signs of struggles with mental health can look different for every child, and some may be easier to recognize than others,” Freed said. “Parents should take seriously any major changes to their baseline behavior that could be a symptom of something more concerning.” 

“If adolescents seem overwhelmed by trying to manage challenges, parents should seek professional help.” 

But even after recognizing a behavioral change, parents still found it challenging to get their child the help they needed. More than half of those surveyed decided on their own to seek help, while fewer than 1 in 5 received a referral from their primary care provider or school.  

Children’s Hospital Association president Amy Wimpey Knight said in the news release that challenges parents face getting their children adequate treatment provides a clear example of the added need to enable both parents and children the help they need.  

“Parents whose children need mental health help should remember they aren’t alone,” she added. “But they may need to be proactive and persistent in seeking support from a provider, their school, or family or friends in caring for mental health issues.” 


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