Nearly one-third of Tennessee parents are worried their child has an undiagnosed mental health condition

One-third of Tennessee parents with children ages 6-17 are worried their child has an undiagnosed mental health condition, a poll from the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy found.

The findings in the poll, released in summer 2020, led by researchers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, also found that about 30% of parents said their child had been diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety or depression.

“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 findings were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted children’s academic and social lives in unprecedented ways. This underscores the importance of addressing and understanding mental health challenges in children to better keep them healthy and safe, said Stephen Patrick, MD, MPH, a neonatologist and director of the Vanderbilt Center for Child Health Policy.

“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 well-being,” Patrick said.

The Vanderbilt Child Health Poll asked a statewide sample of 1,100 Tennessee parents about their concerns related to children and mental health (social, emotional and behavioral health) before coronavirus began to spread in the state.

Attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity disorder (16%), anxiety (11%) and depression (8%) were the most common mental health diagnoses, often in combination with another of these three conditions. Nearly 20% of parents reported that their child had been diagnosed with two or more mental health conditions.

Additionally, 10% of parents reported they were unsure how to talk to their children about suicide and couldn’t identify warning signs. Parents were mostly afraid that talking about suicide would lead to more thoughts of suicide (16%), were worried others would judge them (13%) or didn’t know how to help (13%).

– by Jake Lowary

Hope – Winter 2021