Many children with mental health problems are either not being seen, or are being seen by professionals who have not been trained in the principles of development and childhood psychopathology, said Thomas F. Anders, M.D. He told Psychiatric Times, "We believe that the care that many of these kids are getting today is inadequate."
The Surgeon General's Report on Children's Mental Health and a number of studies suggest that the prevalence of children's mental health problems is increasing as stressors in society continue to increase. Meanwhile, the number of well-trained providers is decreasing, leading to a major crisis in providing services.
"These problems don't go away by themselves, and without treatment, they get worse," Anders said. "The enormous need that our society has for providing emotionally secure and physically safe environments for kids is huge, and our mental health professionals need to be a big part of that."
No Easy Fix
The U.S. Bureau of Health Professions projects that at current recruitment levels, the nation will have only two-thirds of child and adolescent psychiatrists needed to meet the demand by 2020--8,312 child psychiatrists versus a need for 12,624.
A "severe maldistribution" of practicing child psychiatrists further exacerbates the problem. While Massachusetts has 17.5 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 youths, West Virginia has only 1.3, and the national average is 7.5.
The workforce shortage issue has two complementary threads, according to Anders, president-elect of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and co-chair of its steering committee on work force issues.