One-third of Tenn. parents worry child has undiagnosed mental health condition

Nearly 20 percent of parents reported their child been diagnosed with two or more mental health conditions, according to the study.
Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 8:16 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - One-third of Tennessee parents are worried their child may have an undiagnosed mental health condition, according to a new study released by the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy Wednesday.

The Vanderbilt survey of 1,100 Tennessee parents showed 29 percent of children between the ages 6 and 17 have already been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition.

Nearly 20 percent of parents reported their child been diagnosed with two or more mental health conditions, according to the study.

According to the study, Attention Deficit Disorder/Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety and depression are the top mental health conditions found in Tennessee children.

“Mental health conditions are common among children and adolescents,” said S. Todd Callahan, MD, MPH, associate professor of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Health. “Mental health symptoms can be a serious threat to a child’s health, growth and development. The good news is that these symptoms usually improve with intervention and treatment.”

The study was led by researchers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt Medical Center. The researchers asked parents about their concerns related to children’s mental health in the fall of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers said the current pandemic heightens their concern due to increased stress levels during this time.

“COVID-19 disrupted the routines of children across the state, creating stress for parents and children alike. Now more than ever, parents should not be afraid to talk to their kids about mental health and wellbeing,” said Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, a neonatologist and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy.

The study reported 10 percent of Tennessee parents said they were unsure how to talk to their children about suicide and couldn’t identify warning signs.

Over the past decade, more than 500 Tennessee children have died from suicide. The Tennessee General Assembly recently declared suicide a state crisis. In early July, Governor Bill Lee and University of Tennessee Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer announced a statewide mental health initiative.

“Parents are often afraid to discuss depression and thoughts of suicide with their youngsters and may not realize they don’t know how to express their feelings,” said Catherine Fuchs, MD, professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, and Pediatrics at VUMC, who helped craft the survey. “Even though kids don’t admit it, knowing that parents are interested in how they are feeling and modeling how to talk about it can provide tremendous relief.”

Fuchs recommended parents use art activities, books about emotions or television shows about an appropriate expression of emotions to help guide the conversation about mental health.

More than 30 percent of parents surveyed said they would turn to their child’s doctor for help with mental health concerns.

Parents who have concerns about their child’s mental health are encouraged to speak to their child’s physician or call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Tennessee Crisis Line at 855-CRISIS-1 in emergencies or with general questions.

To read more about the Child Health Poll, click here.

Copyright 2020 WVLT. All rights reserved.

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