Column: Children’s mental health critical

Children’s mental health is one of the most important and most misunderstood issues in our national healthcare debate. Today, mental health care represents 38 percent of children’s Medicaid spending, which is used by just 10 percent of juvenile Medicaid patients. But the benefits far outweigh the costs. Today’s investments help to heal children and produce resilient adults. In the long term, effective treatments not only save lives but have significant economic benefits, including savings in the cost of education, unemployment, healthcare and incarceration.

Children’s mental health providers like Starfish Family Services know that too many U.S. children fail to receive the mental health care they need. This short-sighted approach damages children, families and society since mental health problems often grow more serious and expensive over time, with impacts in an array of settings. Within schools, mental health issues are often mistaken for discipline problems, learning disabilities, academic struggles, and ADHD. Later, these issues may lead to addiction, incarceration and unemployment. The long-term effects are especially concerning for children exposed to trauma. Ongoing trauma can change the chemistry of the brain and the body, leading to increased lifetime risks of chronic health conditions including cancer, heart disease, substance abuse, and other issues.

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